ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –Throughout the Broncos' playoff run in 2011, the team relied on the consistent play from its special teams units.
Four of the team's eight regular-season victories ended on the leg of kicker Matt Prater, punter Britton Colquitt set franchise punting records and Denver tied for second in the NFL with a pair of punt-return touchdowns.
Now in his second year as the Broncos' special teams coordinator, Jeff Rodgers will have plenty of new faces making up his different coverage and return teams.
That turnover is something he's well accustomed to, as the 2012 season will be his ninth year coaching special teams in the NFL.
"It's the nature of the beast," Rodgers said. "Every year you hope you stay healthy and you hope you have the same group of guys, but inevitably it's going to turn at some point. Whether or not you get some of those guys back returning kicks or whether they remain in their offensive or defensive role will change from year to year. Sometimes you never get that guy back because maybe he gets hurt, or sometimes you never get that guy back because somebody else gives him an opportunity."
This year, the most noticeable change will come at returner as Eddie Royal signed with the San Diego Chargers in the offseason, creating an opening that will be filled via competition in training camp.
Incoming players to watch in kick and punt return roles could include rookies such as wide receiver Eric Page, who was an All-American kick returner at Toledo, cornerbacks Omar Bolden and Coryell Judie and running back Ronnie Hillman.
There will be familiar faces in the kicking game as the team returns Prater, Colquitt – who also serves as the holder – and long snapper Lonie Paxton.
"The longer those guys in the kicking game are together, the more comfortable they get with each other," Rodgers said. "You don't want to have too many moving parts every year. Certainly to have all three of those guys back should provide some continuity for us going forward. Those guys having a year to learn what our expectations are as a coaching staff and how we practice and what we expect out of them, certainly it will help."
Also returning in 2012 is special teams captain Wesley Woodyard, who also sees time on the defensive side of the ball as a linebacker.
Having Woodyard back gives Burns and Rodgers a veteran voice on the field for younger players to learn from.
"There's certainly some experience that he has being in certain situations," Rodgers said of Woodyard. "He came in as an undrafted guy and started on all four special teams. There have been times where he had to start on defense and play in all the kicking game phases. He's got a valued opinion because he's done it a couple different ways. As coaches, you're always trying to lean on those guys. He's not shy about sharing that opinion."
MEET THE SPECIALISTS
Aaron Brewer:A rookie long snapper who signed with the Broncos as a college free agent, Brewer was a four-time All-Mountain West Conference selection at San Diego State University.
Britton Colquitt:A fourth-year punter from Tennessee, Colquitt is the franchise career leader in gross (46.1) and net (38.5) punting average (min. 100 punts).
Lonie Paxton:Entering his 13th season in 2012, Paxton is a three-time Super Bowl Champion who has participated in 131 career wins for his NFL career.
Matt Prater:Signed to a four-year contract this offseason, Prater ranks second in franchise history in field goal accuracy having converted 90-of-112 (.804) attempts in his five seasons with the Broncos.