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Five Broncos things you should know: Gafford gets settled in, Tyreek Hill's threat, and more


The Broncos finished their week of practice for the Chiefs.


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --As you dive into your post-Thanksgiving leftover spread of smoked turkey, sweet potato casserole and straight-from-a-can cranberry sauce, enjoy these victuals from the Broncos' day of work:



Even as he sat out of the league throughout the regular season, new long snapper Thomas Gafford didn't close the door on returning to the NFL.

"It's a funny league, man," Gafford said. "I went into the season committing to myself that I was going to stay ready for anything at any time. It happened at any time."

Specifically, it happened Thanksgiving week, after first-year long snapper Casey Kreiter suffered a calf injury in practice Wednesday.. The call inviting Gafford to Denver came while he was out deer hunting in south Texas. He then waded through the typical Thanksgiving week travel morass to arrive in time for a Thursday tryout.

"I was with my family, so I hated leaving them," Gafford said. "But they encouraged me to go do well."

Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis always keeps a list of potential long snappers, punters and kickers ready just in case an injury strikes. He was prepared -- and so was Gafford.


It wasn't about firing hundreds of snaps a day. Instead, he focused on staying in shape, limiting his snapping work to two sessions each week.

"I snapped twice a week just to stay sharp, and I trained four or five days a week," Gafford said. "It's just about keeping your body in shape and ready to play snapping-wise. Twice a week [is enough to] keep my tools sharp, but not wear me out."

Gafford said he practiced his snaps with a pair of former NFL long snappers -- neither of whom was actively trying to get back in the game, but all of whom could offer pointers if needed "and could catch the ball, so I could actually know what's going on."

But now there's plenty of work to do.

"You've got to understand the blocking schemes, and if they do this, how you're going to handle it," Gafford said. "Also, you've got to get to know your players -- what is the guy next to me going to do in each situation? That's a big part of it, just getting around these guys, talking, watching film together and learning about each other quickly."

Added DeCamillis: "It's going to be some work. We were here for quite a while [Thursday] trying to get him ready, and going through all the calls and everything. Punt protection is probably the biggest thing we've got to get squared away, but also on field goals, he's got to get used to being with [McManus] in a short period of time. We've got another day, and we'll get him ready."



Of the 28 players with at least 10 punt returns this season, only Washington's Jamison Crowder is averaging more yardage than Kansas City's Tyreek Hill, whose 15.8-yard average and consistent breakaway threat provide another dimension that has helped the Chiefs overcome an inconsistent offense.

"This guy's special," said DeCamillis. "He's a game-breaker. The thing that doesn't show up in the stats is that he had two touchdowns that got called back [for penalties]," DeCamillis said. "He's explosive, and we've got our work cut out for us."

The root of the success is the Chiefs' special-teams coordinator, Dave Toub. Since he joined Kansas City's staff in 2013, Kansas City leads the league in punt-return average (11.3 yards) and ranks second in kickoff-return average (26.3 yards), with an AFC-leading six total touchdowns on kickoff and punt runbacks.

"When you look at what Coach Toub has done in Kansas City and Chicago, he's done a great job," DeCamillis said. "He had [Devin] Hester [in Chicago]; he always has returners; they do a great job with personnel."

"He coaches it well, they put a big emphasis on it, and they block well," said Gafford, who played two seasons under Toub with the Chiefs. "They have good schemes. It's nothing we can't handle; we'll go cover it and get them down."

But the Chiefs' long-term success shows the quality of not only Toub, but the blockers he utilizes.

"Usually when you see a good returner, there's a good group around him. It's not just the returner," DeCamillis said.



Hill's expanded role on offense has given the Chiefs another dimension; his quickness leads to missed tackles in the open field and has helped him average 4.86 yards after the reception per play.

Of the 53 wide receivers with at least 35 receptions this season, only eight gain a higher percentage of their yardage after the catch than Hill; 46.5 percent of his 376 yards on 36 catches has come after the receptions.

Thanks to Hill's shiftiness and tight end Travis Kelce's ability to bounce off potential tacklers, the Chiefs rank third in yardage after the catch.

"They get the ball in guys' hands," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "They have a lot of specialty-type players for bubble screens, those types of things.

"It's something we'll have to contend with. We'll have to tackle really well."



This week's signing of wide receiver Marlon Brown isn't necessarily about sending a message in the wide receivers' room. But the Broncos now have more wide receivers than game-day active roster spots to devote to the position -- and have already played three games with only five wide receivers this year.

"They're smart enough to know you can't suit everybody up," Kubiak said. "They know he's a good player and a good special-teams player. We'll see if we keep suiting six and if that's something we keep doing.

"It's naturally a competitive environment because of his presence."

That doesn't mean Brown will play right away, even though his experience with the Broncos this past offseason and in the offense with Kubiak in Baltimore in 2014 means he has little catch-up work to do.

"I don't think we're there yet," Kubiak said., "I like the way our six [receivers] have been playing. We've got a very competitive situation right there and kind of a loaded situation right there on our football team."

With Brown, the Broncos are one of just three teams with a league-leading seven wide receivers on their 53-man roster, joining the Jets and Packers. Seventeen teams have six wide receivers, as the Broncos did before signing Brown; 10 have five, and one (the Lions) has four, for a league-wide average of 5.69 receivers per team.

The decision to waive nose tackle Darius Kilgo to make room for Gafford leaves Denver with just five defensive linemen.

"Those rosters are week-to-week this time of year," Kubiak said. "Obviously we've got a bunch of receivers and we're going to be down on the defensive line a little bit right now."

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