ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Although often overlooked as a unit, the Broncos special teams had their hands in key moments in many of the team's 2011 victories.
Four of the team's wins ended on the leg of kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt helped keep opponents pinned deep in their own territories as he set franchise gross and net punting records.
Leading that unit in his first year with the Broncos was Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Rodgers, who came to Denver from Carolina along with Head Coach John Fox.
Rodgers sat down with DenverBroncos.com to talk about the play of the special teams in 2011, the importance of signing Matt Prater to a long-term contract and the newcomers to the special teams units.
What were your takeaways from the kickoff team last year?
"I thought we performed fairly decent for most of the season. Kickoff-wise, Matt's got a strong leg which lends to creating some field position in that regard. I think he was 70 percent touchbacks, so there's limited opportunities where the returner has a chance to make a play. And when the returner got the ball in his hands, I thought we did a decent job of keeping them pinned back pretty good."
How do you handle roster movement on the special teams units throughout the year?
"It's the nature of the beast. 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. Say a Chris Harris Jr. from last year. He got an opportunity to play defense, did well with it, and he's playing too many defensive snaps to resume his role on special teams. It's to some degree what happened with Quinton Carter last year as well. It's good for those guys because they get to play a whole lot more. There are 60-70 defensive snaps and there are 25 special teams snaps. Wherever the value is for the player, that's obviously the role that we're going to have him in."
What has team captain Wesley Woodyard brought to the special teams units?"Wood has now played for three special teams coaches, he's seen it taught three different ways. There's certainly some experience that he has being in certain situations. He came in as an undrafted guy, 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 has a valued opinion because he's done it a couple different ways. As coaches, you're always trying to lean on those guys and ask, 'Hey what do you think about this or that?' or 'Is there something we can do better to help you guys learn?' He's not shy about sharing that opinion. It's good to have feedback from a guy who's been around a bit."
What did it mean to sign Matt Prater to a long-term contract this week?
"Matt's a guy who's been with a couple different teams and found his niche here. He's done a good job. If you had to say what can he hang his hat on, the two things he does the best are his leg strength and his ability to make kicks last year when we needed him. That's a good feeling going forward. Just as much as it's important to have confidence in your own ability as a kicker or punter or snapper or return guy, I think the coaching staff needs to feel that. Any time you get a guy who you trust, you certainly want to have that continue. It's a little bit of a learning process just getting to know what guys are good at, and what they may not be good at, finding out that you have a kicker you can count on certainly is something you want to have year in and year out."
Is it important to have continuity with the kicker, holder and long snapper?
"The longer guys are together, the more comfortable they get with each other. 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."
How imporant was Britton Colquitt's record-setting season to the team's success last year?
"For a large part of the season he was amongst the league leaders. Obviously he finished in the top quarter of the league in net. More important than that is what all that net punting meant to us. There were plenty of times last year he flipped the field and provided long fields for the opposing team's offense. His holding doesn't go unnoticed. That's something that is important to a kicker, the holder's ability. He did a good job in that regard. The biggest improvement I thought he made last year was his plus-50 punting, still making sure that the opposing team's offense has a long way to go. He improved statistically in that regard. Just with his ball placement, there was five others where if the hop goes the other way, we've got a guy in position. I think any time you have a young punter, it's something that eventually just clicks. It's just whether that guy can hang around long enough for it to click. If he can pick up where he did, you'd expect him to have continued success in this league."
What was your reaction to the news that your brother, Jeff, was promoted to be the team's defensive line coach?
"It's a great deal for him. Jay has worked extremely hard at a bunch of different places. To see him get his opportunity is obviously good for me personally. It doesn't really change our interaction day to day, but its certainly something that you kind of keep track of if you have family in the business, where they're at, how they're doing. When I was in Carolina and he was here, I was checking (the Broncos') box score, how they're doing or whatever. It's certainly different seeing him on a daily basis, but that's a good thing for us and hopefully it lasts for a while."