ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --In the Chiefs' 30-27 overtime win over the Broncos on Nov. 27, Tyreek Hill inflicted a massive amount of damage, scoring all three Kansas City touchdowns -- and doing so in three different ways, scoring on a run, a reception and a free-kick return.
And limiting his opportunities for explosive specialt-eams plays is not as simple as telling punter Riley Dixon and kicker Brandon McManus, "Don't kick it to him."
- DEALING WITH TYREEK HILL**
"You're gonna have to move the ball around," said Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis, who called the Week 12 game against Kansas City "the worst game that I've ever been a part of special-teams wise." Some of the issues were self-inflicted; others were caused by the Chiefs. All were damaging.
A first step -- other than the obvious, which is for the offense to generate some drives that keep the Broncos out of punt situations -- is to put Hill in some different situations, particularly in regards to the direction and trajectory of punts.
"You can't give him the same ball all the time," DeCamillis said, "and we just have to do a great job with our leverage, with our tackling, and hopefully take some of those balls away."
Hill has fumbled three times on punt returns this season -- a rate of once every 14.0 opportunities that is worse than the league average of one every 18.5 chances.
"Like people used to say with some of the really good returners, 'They put it on the ground, but they put it on the ground going over the goal line, too.' So you have to live with some of that with some of those guys," DeCamillis said.
- ROOKIE SAFETIES "DIDN'T HIT THE WALL"**
If T.J. Ward does not clear the league-mandated post-concussion protocol, either Justin Simmons or Will Parks will start alongside Darian Stewart.
Parks has more snaps on defense (220) and special teams (296) than Simmons (178 and 245, respectively), but on a per-game basis, their workload is nearly identical. Simmons missed three games earlier this season, but has averaged 21.8 defensive snaps per game; Parks' average is 21.7.
Their interchangeable use has helped keep them fresh. ,p> "As rookies, they didn't hit the [rookie] wall, which is good," said Phillips. "I think they've kept improving as we've gone along."
For that, Phillips credits the veterans around the two rookies.
"Our guys are so focused in the secondary. You can see why we have a Pro Bowl secondary. They're really focused on what they're doing all the time. I think that's rubbed off on the rookies. They follow in the right way."
"They're playing faster, and just trusting what they see," added Stewart.
- DECAMILLIS ON NORWOOD: "NOBODY FEELS WORSE THAN HIM"**
"There's nobody that felt worse than him, I can promise you," DeCamillis said when discussing Jordan Norwood's first-quarter muffed punt last Sunday. "I see some of these pinheads that get out there and say, 'Why he is back there? Blah blah blah.' Well, I mean, he's back there because he's done it before and he made a mistake.
"There's nobody that feels worse than him. And we've got to get him corrected, and whoever's back there, we've got to handle ball security, there's no question about that. [The muff] put our team in a bad situation last week." DeCamillis added that Norwood's recent spate of fumbles was not a technical issue in his ability to field punts, noting that the veteran "caught the ball really well in practice" leading up to last week's loss to New England.
"You get on a little roll one way or another -- if you're hot or if you're cold," DeCamillis said. "Unfortunately, he's in a cold stage right now, and we've got to get him out of it."
The Broncos continued to prep for their Christmas Day game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday at the UCHealth Training center. (Photos by Eric Bakke)
- BUT "A NUMBER OF GUYS" HAVE WORKED ON PUNT RETURNS THIS WEEK**
That includes wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Kalif Raymond. Sanders fielded 37 punts for the Broncos last year, taking 20 for fair catches and averaging 6.1 yards on the 17 he returned. Raymond handled punt returns in Weeks 13 and 14 and averaged 10.2 yards per return.
DeCamillis said he thought Raymond showed enough in his two games of work to demonstrate that the has a future in the NFL. Three of Raymond's six returns so far have covered at least 19 yards.
"He's got a future. We've got to see where he's at," DeCamillis said. "If he's back there [against the Chiefs], it's going to be a big challenge for him this week because of the situations and the weather conditions. It's going to be another challenge for all of us."
The Christmas night forecast calls for balmy temperatures of around 59°F/15°C at kickoff, but also winds of up to 20 miles per hour and a chance of rain that is supposed to taper off in the first hour of the game.
And no matter who returns punts 0in Arrowhead Stadium, avoiding mistakes will be paramount, given that the opportunistic Chiefs lead the league in takeaways (28) and touchdowns via various returns (seven).
"The first time we played against Kansas City, we played pitiful. And we're going to have to play a lot better than that this time," DeCamillis said.
- CONTINGENCY PLANS AT TIGHT END**
With A.J. Derby and Virgil Green still in the league-mandated post-concussion protocol, Jeff Heuerman is the only healthy tight end on the 53-man roster. If neither Derby nor Green is cleared, the Broncos could be forced to add another tight end, whether it's Henry Krieger-Coble, Steven Scheu or Austin Traylor from the practice squad or a street free agent.
"It all depends. We're going to give it until the end of the week, see how these guys do and see if they are able to get back on the field," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "We're obviously practicing with some young guys this week. Jeff is doing a good job."
If Heuerman is forced into the most extensive action of his career to date, Kubiak hopes the 2015 third-round pick seizes his opportunity after a frustrating season that has seen hamstring issues and brief flashes of brilliance when he gets open down the seam.
"There are always moments in guys' careers where they get opportunities and they don't ever give it back," Kubiak said. "Hopefully this is one of those moments for him. He's worked hard. He's had a lot of setbacks with injuries, but he's had a good month here. Let's see what happens. I was encouraged by last week."