ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Specialists, more than any other player, need a year or two out of college before they start collecting NFL paychecks.
Long snapper Casey Kreiter was two years out of college before he made his first NFL snap with the Broncos in 2016. Kreiter was the Broncos’ long snapper for four years and is now with the New York Giants.
His replacement in Denver this year, Jacob Bobenmoyer, got two tryouts with the Broncos in his first year after Northern Colorado last year, but didn’t make the team until this year.
“If you look at the snappers in college football, college football rules are 1,000 percent different in the punt game than the NFL,’’ said Broncos special teams coordinator Tom McMahon. “Everybody can release when the ball is snapped, so 95 percent of all the snappers in college football have never ever one time in their life protected. They’ve never had to protect the gap. That’s the biggest adjustment for those guys from a snapper’s perspective.’’
Then there are kickers. Matt Prater needed three years to break in as the Broncos’ regular placekicker in 2008. Brandon McManus took a year, then needed a second to get firm planting as Prater’s replacement. Matt Bryant, a top 10 placekicker in NFL history by most statistical standards, took four years to break in.
“The hashes are the biggest thing, especially on field goals,’’ McMahon said referring to the hash marks on the field. “They’re much wider in college. The big thing and what we look for is we want to go get the biggest leg we can. A lot of the kickers that come in, they weren’t great field goals kickers in college, and then they come in here and the hashes shrink on them and it’s much, much easier to kick field goals because you’re not trying to kick one from way outside. That takes some time for the young guys.”
Special teams figure to play a pivotal role in the Broncos' season opener Monday night against the Tennessee Titans at Empower Field at Mile High. The game will be played before more 1,000 cutouts of fans likeness and approximately 500 family and friends of coaches, players and executives.
Punters also typically have extended break-in periods. Britton Colquitt got cut multiple times before sticking. Colby Wadman got his chance two-plus years out of college. Sam Martin, the Broncos’ current punter, made it right away but he is the exception, not the rule.
“The big thing with the punters is a lot of rugby stuff,’’ McMahon said. “They roll out, they kick the ball and they’re not pocket punters. It takes them a couple years to learn how to hit the edges. You can release every single player on a punt in college. When the ball is snapped, all we can do is release the gunners, so you have to try and punt to those gunners. It takes guys awhile.”
And for returners, it’s consistently catching a punt or kickoff that floats in with considerably more height in the NFL than in college. Broncos returner Diontae Spencer took three years after college to get a job in the Canadian Football League and then two more before he got his NFL chance last year.
The Broncos now have a solid special teams core in McManus, Martin, Spencer and Bobenmoyer. But it took a while.