BRONCOS

Broncos bring back a former punter

Mar 21, 2023, 10:24 AM | Updated: 3:05 pm

Riley Dixon’s rookie season of 2016 was one of the most promising in modern NFL history for punters. His next season was virtually identical, aside from absorbing two blocked punts as the entire special teams collapsed during the disastrous single-year tenure of coordinator Brock Olivo.

Dixon’s reward for those two seasons was a ticket out of Denver. And with that short-sighted move, the punter carousel went into overdrive. The Broncos cycled through Marquette King, Colby Wadman, Sam Martin and Corliss Waitman over the following five seasons. Meanwhile, Dixon kept on punting — first for four years with the New York Giants, then last season for the Los Angeles Rams.

It was with the Rams that Dixon set a new career high in gross punting average: 48.4 yards. And that’s what the Broncos hope they’ll be getting as they bring him back to compete for the punting job.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported the move Tuesday morning.

A few hours later, the Broncos rescinded their exclusive-rights tender on Corliss Waitman.

Last year, Waitman ranked 20th in gross punting average (46.6 yards) and 16th in net average (41.5 yards). Dixon ranked 11th and 13th in both categories, respectively. On the surface, that comparison would not seem to give Dixon he gig lock, stock and barrel.

But favoring Dixon is the fact that a new regime brought him back into the fold.

Dixon’s return comes in the midst of a free-agent signing period that saw special teams become a point of emphasis. A slew of signings and re-signings in recent days — fullback Mike Burton, tight end Chris Manhertz, cornerback/returner Tremon Smith, linebacker Alex Singleton, running back Samaje Perine, safety P.J. Locke and cornerback Essang Bassey — have significant special-teams experience. All project as potential core players in that phase.

The Broncos’ commitment to improve special teams comes as no surprise. Coach Sean Payton is a former Bill Parcells assistant, and Parcells espoused that the best way to make an immediate impact in turning around a new team was to upgrade special teams. Payton’s right-hand man is longtime special-teams guru Mike Westhoff, who worked with him for two seasons New Orleans. Westhoff is one of the top special-teams coordinators of the past quarter-century.

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