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With McManus not expected to clear COVID protocols in time, Russolino likely Broncos kicker vs. Bills

Brandon McManus started his isolation Monday, but the league apparently didn't start the clock in time for him to be cleared by Saturday afternoon's kickoff.
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus (8) kicks a 53-yard field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Taylor Russolino, whoever you are, get kicking.

It doesn’t appear Broncos kicker Brandon McManus will clear his COVID protocols in time for the game Saturday against the Buffalo Bills. A Sunday game? Yes, McManus kicks. But as a high-risk, close contact with someone infected by the novel coronavirus, McManus has to isolate for five days. He informed the public Monday he had started his isolation period but apparently the league is saying the clock didn’t start in time for McManus to be cleared by Saturday afternoon.

“As we sit here today, no,’’ Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said about McManus’ availability for the Bills game during his Zoom news conference Thursday. “There’s still some question with him and the league when his counting of days should have started. But unless they change, he won’t play. If it would have been a Sunday game, he would’ve played.”

The Broncos brought in XFL kicker Taylor Russolino three weeks ago to serve as an emergency replacement after the team was caught without a quarterback for its game against New Orleans on Nov. 29. The Broncos made adjustments to make sure they were never caught in the situation again with their quarterback or kicker positions.

RELATED: McManus on COVID list as close contact but hopes to kick Saturday vs. Bills

The 6-foot, 170-pound Russolino kicked for the St. Louis BattleHawks earlier this year, making 9 of 10 field goals with a long of 58 yards. A product of Millsaps College, Russolino also spent some time punting and kicking for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in 2017.

It was that combo of kicking and punting that made sense for the Broncos as a quarantine player in case either McManus or punter Sam Martin went on COVID reserve. McManus has been self-isolating at a local hotel since Monday. He was under the impression that if he tested negative through Saturday morning he would be able to kick against the Bills on Saturday afternoon.

But apparently that’s not the case.  

After going through a week’s worth of virus testing just to enter Broncos headquarters, Russolino was kept away from the team last week as a “quarantine” kicker, instead working out at the team’s practice facilities during non-team practice hours under the supervision of special teams coordinator Tom McMahon. Russolino has joined the team during walkthroughs and practices this week.

“We all got our first look at him (Wednesday) because since he’s been here he’s been working and practicing while guys were in meetings,’’ Fangio said. “So none of us had really seen him other than Tom. He kicked very well yesterday in practice. I was very encouraged by what he did in practice yesterday. If he kicks as good as he did yesterday in practice, we’ll be fine.”

Credit: KUSA
Tom McMahon speaks at a news conference at UCHealth Training Center on Thursday, January 24, 2019.

Russolino came to the Broncos on recommendation from former punter and kickoff specialist Pat McAfee, whom McMahon coached in Indianapolis.

“Last year, Pat McAfee did a game (as color commentator) in the XFL and he called me and said, ‘Hey, there’s a guy that fits your criteria, some of the traits I look for,'’’ McMahon said. “That’s when I started following Taylor and when this thing came up that we wanted to bring in a COVID kicker in case we needed him, he was the first recommend I gave to Matt (Russell, director of player personnel) and A.J. (Durso, director of pro personnel).”

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