KUSA—In nine days, the Denver Broncos will officially begin training camp with a morning workout.
In nine days, Broncos fans will gather, free of charge, along the grassy berm at UCHealth Training Center to see their 2017 team for the first time.
In nine days, the Broncos must begin addressing 9 question marks, or concerns, or unknowns. Each day we at 9News will give you one aspect of the Broncos for fans to watch for.
We start from the bottom.
No. 9: Isaiah and the returners
The first time Isaiah McKenzie ever returned a football for keeps was his freshman year at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida.
It was the season opener against Clewiston High School. McKenzie had played football from sunup to sundown with about 100 kids on the street outside his apartment in a poor, crowded section of Miami. But this would be his first big moment on a football field. He was raw, an oh so small – he was listed at 167 pounds by his senior year, but he appeared even scrawnier as a freshman -- so his coaches didn’t let him play receiver or running back much at first. But he made the varsity team as a returner.
“It was the very first kickoff return,’’ he said. “And I took it to the house.’’
You can look it up, as we did. He went 78 yards for a score in a 26-21 win on Sept. 3, 2010.
Seven years later, McKenzie is a fifth-round rookie out of Georgia, listed at 5-foot-8, 173 pounds, and the favorite to handle the Broncos’ return duties this season.
McKenzie is especially stellar as a punt returner. He had five touchdowns off punt returns at Georgia, one off a kickoff.
“I would say kickoff return you have to have a scheme, you have to have a setup, you have to have people in place to get the right timing to hit a hole,’’ McKenzie said. “Punt return, anything can happen. It might be a right return that turns into a left return. They’re very different, but they’re both good. I like them.’’
Carlos Henderson, the Broncos’ third-round rookie receiver from Louisiana Tech, will also get a chance to handle the kickoff role, as will returning receivers Kalif Raymond and Cody Latimer.
Henderson returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a redshirt junior last year.
The Broncos desperately need some juice in their return game. One reason is because they haven’t had excitement in their return game since Trindon Holliday in 2012. Another is the Broncos’ offense struggled to score, averaging just 20.8 points per game to rank 22nd in the league.
The offense could use either the occasional score from special teams, or the chance to start a couple drives a game past their 30.
There are plans to use McKenzie as an offensive weapon, both as a slot receiver and running back, much as Kansas City used fifth-round rookie Tyreek Hill last season. This is a copycat league. But for starters, McKenzie must concentrate on making his mark as a returner.
“Yes. And I try to show them every day I can be a receiver as well,’’ McKenzie said in a sit-down interview with 9News during the Broncos’ final offseason week of minicamp. “But I love punt return and I love special teams all together. And then saying I can be the No. 1 punt returner coming in, I take heed to that and do the job the best way I can.’’