BRONCOS

By adding Tremon Smith, Broncos offer another sign they’re serious about special teams

Mar 15, 2023, 12:35 PM | Updated: 12:36 pm

The Bill Parcells tree has branched in many different directions. But one maxim of Parcells that virtually all of his former lieutenants espouse is this: The first, easiest place to make an impact on a struggling team and turn it around is on special teams.

Denver’s special teams has been among the NFL’s stragglers in recent years. Denver ranked 24th or worse in special-teams DVOA in each season since Gary Kubiak’s departure; the Broncos were 29th last year. And in Rick Gosselin’s annual special-teams rankings, the Broncos finished 21st or worse in each of the last six seasons, including 25th last year.

To wit:

Rick Gosselin’s rankings:

  • 2022: 25
  • 2021: 27
  • 2020: 21
  • 2019: 21
  • 2018: 24
  • 2017: 31

Football Outsiders special-teams DVOA:

  • 2022: 29
  • 2021: 30
  • 2020: 24
  • 2019: 24
  • 2018: 31
  • 2017: 30

Special teams can win you games at the margins. But they can lose them for you, too. And failures in that phase represent a massive reason why the Broncos have the NFL’s second-worst record in one-score games — 19-34 — in that span.

So, Sean Payton — who worked under Parcells from 2003-05 as Dallas’ offensive coordinator — brought in long-time special-teams guru Mike Westhoff as his second-in-command, with Ben Kotwica handling the special-teams coordinator role. And some recent moves have shown that they want to shuffle the deck in that phase.

Adding Tremon Smith is part of that. The former Texans returner and cornerback agreed to terms Wednesday, as first reported by Aaron Wilson of KPRC-Ch. 2 in Houston.

Smith provides cornerback depth. He started four games at cornerback for the Texans in the last two years. And while his snaps were few and he was targeted infrequently, he still had two interceptions in 2022 — averaging a pick once every eight times opposing QBs threw in his direction, per the data compiled by SportRadar.com.

But it’s all about special teams for Smith, is a proven kickoff returner with a career 24.7-yard average. Kickoff returns have been a constant for Smith during stints with the Chiefs, Packers, Colts and Texans. But he handles other roles on multiple special-teams units, including as a gunner on punts.

Smith saw action on 77 percent of the Texans’ special-teams snaps in 2021. That rose to 78 percent last year.

Thus, Smith continues a thread running through some of the Broncos’ recent additions.

Fullback Mike Burton played over half of the Chiefs’ special-teams snaps last year. Tight end Chris Manhertz played a career-high 137 special-teams snaps last year for Jacksonville. He’s been a part of special-teams units throughout his career. Re-signed inside linebacker Alex Singleton should factor on multiple special-teams phases, too.

And while Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s regular-season special-teams experience is sparse — just 76 career snaps — he has potential as a gunner on punts, a role he played in preseasons. Payton had Humphrey in New Orleans and knows his skill set.

One doesn’t know how the Broncos will fare this year.

But the safest prediction might be this: Their special teams will be better. Much better.

The Broncos’ moves prove that they’re taking it seriously.

***

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By adding Tremon Smith, Broncos offer another sign they’re serious about special teams