ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos' season has four weeks to go, but Isaiah McKenzie's work as the punt returner is done for the year.
After a fourth-quarter fumble Sunday that led to a safety, Head Coach Vance Joseph announced that McKenzie will be relieved of punt-return responsibilities. The fumble was McKenzie's sixth of the regular season.
"Right now, we can't afford to chance the ball being on the ground, so we're going to sit him back down again and let Jordan Taylor do it the rest of the season," Joseph said.
Taylor handled most of the work on punt returns during the previous two games when McKenzie was inactive.
Joseph said he re-inserted McKenzie on Sunday to "find a way to give the team a spark."
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"With the ball in his hand, he's a special returner," Joseph said. "Obviously he's had trouble catching the ball and taking care of the football, and I thought personally that two weeks [inactive] would help him overcome that. That wasn't so.
"He needs more time. I'm not giving up on Isaiah. He was drafted to be our punt returner."
Joseph hopes that McKenzie can improve in 2018 as Miami's Jakeem Grant did this year. As a rookie in 2016, Grant fumbled four times on 23 punt-return opportunities, including three fair catches. This year, Grant has just one fumble in 29 opportunities, including nine fair catches.
"I was telling [Executive Vice President of Public and Community Relations Patrick Smyth] this story this morning about [Grant] for the Dolphins. Very similar player, very similar story," Joseph said. "You watch him yesterday, that's a really confident returner."
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Grant averaged 15.3 yards on four punt returns Sunday, including a 27-yarder.
"We hope that happens with Isaiah," Joseph said.
McKenzie believes that can be the case next year.
"[I'm hoping to show] that I can be better," McKenzie said. "Lay low on the fumbles -- no fumbles. Just cut off on the mistakes [and have] better decision-making."
A year of experience -- even a frustrating one -- can help him.
"In college, it came easy to me over time. I just feel like coming into the NFL, with different punters -- I never faced a left-footed punter in my life. I started to see stuff like that now," McKenzie said.
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"His spirits are high. He's playing dominoes," Joseph said.
... Joseph said that he spoke with President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway for an hour Monday morning.
"We're just talking about how to improve it and how to make it better," Joseph said. "We're both disappointed with the season and how it's gone, but it's our job to fix it."
... Joseph also emphasized that the goal of the next four weeks isn't simply survival, but trying to win and generate some positive momentum in the wake of the eight-game losing streak.
"The message was we don't want to just survive this next month," he said. "We want to push forward and keep working and studying. Keep pushing details and trying to win football games.
"We don't want guys just showing up to work and just checking boxes. We want to go to work and push this team into a positive area."