Brandon McManus’ only problem as the Broncos’ kicker has been competing with the Brandon McManus of 2015.
For instance, McManus was a phenomenal 53 of 53 on kicks inside the 50 yard line last season. Again, that’s 53 of 53.
He was 18 of 18 on field goals inside the 50 and made all 35 of his 33-yard extra points. (Since the extra point was moved back from the 20 to 33 yards out four years ago, they are no longer taken for granted).
As a kicker for the Broncos, though, McManus plays half his games in the thin air of Mile High and is asked to routinely make ‘em from beyond 50.
In 2015, McManus made an incredible 5 of 7 field goals from 50 yards-plus, then nailed all 13 of his postseason kicks (10 of 10 field goals, 3 of 3 extra points).
Even President Obama half-joked in the Rose Garden that McManus was the star of the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50-winning offense.
But last year, McManus made just 2 of 7 field goals from beyond 50. He had his long-distance swing down early, nailing field goals from 51 and 53 yards in the opener against Seattle. The Broncos would not have beat the Seahawks, 27-24, without McManus.
But he missed from 55 yards out at Kansas City and 61 against Houston at home – hardly a crime – to lose his long-range groove. He then didn’t convert from 51 yards at the gun in a two-point loss to the Texans.
If McManus were protected from those 50-yard kicks – as some teams do with their accurate but weaker-legged kickers – he may well be a perennial Pro Bowler. But because leg strength is one of his primary assets, and he missed five from beyond the 50 last year, McManus ranked 26th in field goal percentage last year.
With the Broncos reporting to training camp Wednesday, here’s a preview at their mostly overlooked special teams:
The kicking game has a nice blend of youth and experience with long snapper Casey Kreiter, punter Colby Wadman and the kicker McManus.
The return game has ranged from uninspiring to abysmal since Trindon Holliday started fumbling in 2013. Last year, the Broncos were 27th in kickoff returns with a 20.1 yard average and 32nd, or last, with a 4.4-yard punt return average.
Where the Broncos showed the greatest improvement under first-year coordinator Tom McMahom was in covering kickoffs. There were fourth-best in the league, allowing an average of 20.8 yards per return. But thanks to that fluky 99-yard return by Oakland’s Dwayne Harris on Christmas Eve, Denver was fourth-worst in covering punts with an average return allowed of 10.5 yards.
The rookie Wadman brought more stability to the punting game after the Broncos cut enigmatic veteran Marquette King after four games. Still, Wadman must become more consistent in year two.
The returners. After it became clear Adam Jones didn’t have anything left, the Broncos top kickoff returner last year was running back Devontae Booker, who ranked 30th with a 23.4-yard average. River Cracraft, who was basically a punt catcher, averaged 3.3 yards a punt return.
Undrafted rookie receivers Trinity Benson and Kelvin McKnight could get a chance at returning this year, providing one of them makes the 53-man roster.
A sleeper: Devontae Jackson. He’s a 5-foot-7, 176-pound undrafted rookie running back from West Georgia who has NFL potential as a returner.
Taylor Bertolet has a thunder leg from his 5-foot-9 frame, but he's not going to beat out the veteran McManus. Still, Bertolet will get his field goal reps in camp and audition for other teams during the preseason.
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