ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Barring a late change, Taylor Russolino will make his NFL debut at kicker on Saturday against the Bills.
Starting kicker Brandon McManus remains on the team's Reserve/COVID-19 list after being deemed as a close contact from an interaction away from the facility, according to a tweet he sent Monday.
In that tweet, McManus suggested he would be able to kick on Saturday against Buffalo. Head Coach Vic Fangio said Thursday, though, that the team did not expect McManus to be activated in time for the game.
"As we sit here today, no," Fangio said. "I know there's still some question with him and the league with when his counting of days should have started. I don't know where that stands, but unless they change, he won't play. If it would have been a Sunday game, he would have played."
McManus has appeared in 111 of the team's 112 games since 2014, and he has posted the best field-goal percentage of his career in 2020 with just two misses.
On Saturday, though, the Broncos will likely turn to Russolino, who most recently kicked in the XFL.
Russolino was signed to the team's practice squad in early December and has served as the team's emergency kicker in case of a COVID-related absence.
Fangio had not seen Russolino kick in person until Wednesday, but he said he was pleased with Russolino's performance.
"We all got our first look at him yesterday because since he's been here, he's been working and practicing while guys were meeting," Fangio said. "So, none of us have really seen him other than [Special Teams Coordinator] Tom [McMahon]. He kicked very well yesterday in practice. I was very encouraged by what he did in practice yesterday. If he kicks as good as he did yesterday in practice, we'll be fine."
Russolino, whom the Broncos would have to elevate or promote from their practice squad, had not worked with holder — and punter — Sam Martin or long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer before this week.
McMahon, though, said he's confident in Russolino's ability to play well and that his range exceeds 50 yards. Russolino made a 58-yarder during the XFL's recent season.
The Broncos' special teams coordinator first heard of Russolino via Pat McAfee, who played for McMahon for several seasons in Indianapolis.
"Last year, Pat McAfee did a game in the XFL and he called me and said, 'Hey, there's a guy that fits your criteria and some of the traits that you look for,'" McMahon said. "That's when I started following Taylor. He fit some traits, and when this thing came up and when we wanted to bring in a COVID kicker in case we needed him, he was the first name I gave to [Vice President of Player Personnel] Matt [Russell] and [Director of Pro Personnel] A.J. [Durso]."
On Saturday, it appears Russolino will get the chance to show those traits during Denver's game.
'HE'LL NEVER BE ON THE BUBBLE'
Heading into training camp, many roster projections suggested that Tim Patrick was squarely on the bubble of making Denver's 2020 roster.
Fangio suggested Thursday that Patrick was never in danger of missing the cut and that he expects the Broncos' receiving touchdown leader in 2020 to be a productive player for years to come.
"Tim's never been on the roster bubble," Fangio said. "Tim's a quality NFL receiver who would play a lot of plays for a lot of teams. I've always liked Tim. He's a big receiver, he's got good instincts, he can catch the 50-50 balls, he's a good runner after the catch. I see Tim as a quality NFL receiver. He'll never be on the bubble."
Though Courtland Sutton is expected to resume the No. 1 receiver responsibilities in 2021, Patrick's added reps and experience have been invaluable for his development.
"It's big," Fangio said. "Any time a guy gets more reps and more playing time, you'd like to see what they can do with it. Tim obviously has excelled in his extra playing time that he's gotten, and I'm not surprised by it. I've always liked him as a receiver."
CALLAHAN UNLIKELY TO RETURN
Denver had hoped Bryce Callahan could return to the field before the end of the season, but Fangio said the cornerback's chances of returning from IR were "down" after the first few weeks of his recovery process.
"I had hoped that Bryce could play in the last game or two, but I don't think the healing's going as well as we had hoped," Fangio said.
Callahan started 10 games for the Broncos and tied a career-high with two interceptions before being placed on IR with a foot injury.