ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** As the quarterbacks and running backs jockey for spots on the depth chart, perhaps the most competitive battle comes at a position that only sees the field for a handful of snaps per game.
When the Broncos drafted punter Riley Dixon in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft, a spot long held by Britton Colquitt suddenly went up for grabs.
"We had some real good inside information because [Special Teams Coaching Assistant] Chris Gould was with him at Syracuse, so we knew what kind of kid he was and how talented he was," Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis said in late May. "Just watching the film, we felt like he was what we need to compete at that job. He's got a chance to be an NFL punter. That's kind of why we pulled the trigger where we did. I thought the scouting staff did a great job of getting him where we did. Hopefully he has a chance to come in and compete."
Through the first two weeks of Organized Team Activities, Dixon seems to have done just that, and he's had plenty of opportunities to work. In addition to his normal punting duties, Dixon has often been present doing scout team work. While the intentions are different in those drills – coaches want shorter hang times and lower kicks to benefit returners – he's gotten the benefit of added work.
At a press conference to end the second week of OTAs, DeCamillis seemed pleased with how the competition has progressed.
"It was a good week for him," DeCamillis said Thursday. "It was a good week. I thought both of those guys had good weeks. [P] Britton [Colquitt] had a good week also. It's exactly like we thought it was going to be. It's going to be a tough deal. Whoever is the best guy and the best one at the end, that's who we'll take at the end of camp."
Dixon, who said he's still acclimating to the schematic and rule differences in the NFL, is working more with the gunners than he did in college, and he's also getting used to a new protection package.
But in his mind, while everything operates at a higher level in the NFL, he's "still kicking a football."
"I think I've done okay," Dixon said. "Not the greatest for my performance, but you know, there's room for improvement. Still getting acclimated and learning the new schemes but I'm still settling in and figuring it out but I think it's been okay. Not bad, but not as good as I want it to be, you could say."
At 6-foot-4, Dixon's height allows him to put "a nice smooth swing on the ball," and at Syracuse he averaged 42.6 yards per punt and forced fair catches on 42.4 percent of his punts. And, in 2013, he knocked a school-record 75-yard punt.
As he tries to earn the job in Denver, he's enjoying his relationship with Colquitt, and he's not attempting to "impress anybody or [do] anything outside of my abilities."
"He's a class act guy," Dixon said. "He's an unbelievable punter and he's an even better person. So he's really made all of this a lot easier than I could've foreseen it being with somebody else. He's awesome, he's been nothing but help and smiles and that's all I can ask for."
When Dixon isn't on the practice field, you might find him down a dirt road in his truck. Dixon, who grew up in upstate New York, said the outdoors are "a big part of who I am." And while his NFL contract means he might be able to afford a new truck, he said he's more than happy with his 2013 model.
Back at UCHealth Training Center, though, he's firmly focused on the the competition, and he knows the results lie with his own work ethic.
"I don't really see [the competition] as anything other than me trying to be the best punter I can be," Dixon said. "If I can be that, the rest of it's out of my hands. So, like I've said previously, I'm just here to kick footballs. If they tell me I'm good enough, that's great. If they tell me I'm not, I'm gonna keep working. That's all I can do."