ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Over the last few seasons, Tim Patrick has gone from a core special teams contributor to a fledgling star and one of the NFL's most under-appreciated players.
Since the start of 2020, the Utah product has caught 104 catches for 1,476 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns — and many of his catches have come in big moments. In 2018, he set up a game-winning field goal against the Raiders. In Kansas City in 2020, he caught a pair of touchdowns as Denver nearly pulled the upset. Just last year, he caught a deep touchdown against the Cowboys to give Denver a two-touchdown lead in the team's biggest win of the season.
Patrick was rewarded during the team's bye week, as he signed a three-year contract extension to remain in Denver. And yet, as Patrick turns his attention toward the 2022 season, he said he feels no sense of added security.
The former undrafted player remains as motivated as ever.
"Didn't Von Miller get traded last year?" Patrick said Wednesday. "OK. Aint no security in this league. You've got to bring it every year. … My whole mentality is every year I've got to prove myself because that year you don't prove yourself, they're looking for your replacement."
So long as Patrick continues to play at the same level as the previous two years, he certainly won't be easy to replace. And he'll continue to draw motivation from a number of places. As the draft approaches, one of those forms of motivation comes from the NFL Draft.
"I think I proved all of it wrong," Patrick said. "… Honestly it just makes me more angry than anything because during that process, I got called five times during the draft, and telling your family five times, 'Hey, be quiet, be quiet I think this is it,' and them saying, 'We're just making sure you're still available.' I have a lot of built up anger still from that. That's the reason why I play the way I play."
SPECIAL TEAMS PRIORITY
The Broncos are still in the midst of installing their special teams scheme, and they haven't yet reached the punt-return phase of the program.
Special Teams Coordinator Dwayne Stukes said Denver has yet to hold any team special teams periods and that he hasn't seen anyone catch a punt. Still, he said he has confidence in existing players on the roster, even if he isn't opposed to adding talent.
"We have guys that have looked and we're confident in that can catch the ball," Stukes said. "Obviously we look to add some other pieces that can catch the ball and can actually return a ball in a game. We'll see where it takes us, though, to be honest with you. I'm not discounting any guy in the building. They're all professional. I have guys coming in here saying they want to return. We just haven't had the opportunity to do it yet."
Across the unit, Stukes will look to develop eight to 10 "core" special teamers, who must grade out at a certain level to earn that distinction. Whichever players trot out for special teams, though, Stukes expects them to uphold a standard.
"I want to cultivate and build a standard around here with guys who want to be a part of special teams," Stukes said. "I'm going to keep saying that also. I'm not going to be chasing guys around the building, 'Oh, please, please, special teams! Oh, please, please special teams!' That's not my mentality, not my mindset. I was a special teams player. I never started in the league, so I relate more to the guys that have to grind to earn a position. That's who I relate to more."
SHARING THE CARRIES
As Melvin Gordon III returns to the Broncos, Offensive Coordinator Justin Outten envisions an opportunity to feature both Gordon and Javonte Williams.
"With him being in the system, it's going to be another opportunity for us to get another guy back there to run the outside zone in third-down situations," Outten said. "[It's about] having that one-two punch. All those guys are working their tail off as well. You have Mike Boone and [Damarea] Crockett. Those guys are really putting in the work, so it'll be exciting to get him on the field as well."
Outten declined to name a starter, but he said both players will be able to "change up the game with their pace and with fresh legs."
The Broncos' approach to balance those carries could change and depend on the flow of the game.
"It's kind of almost by the feel of the game," Outten said. "It's kind of a similar situation to what we had in Green Bay with a speedier guy and a downhill guy. You want to utilize those guys because it is a long season. You don't want to bang them up. You want to be smart with them, use their strengths, put them out on the field and make them work. We're excited to have both those guys."