The Denver Broncos special teams side of the ball has struggled mightily over the course of the last six seasons. Despite struggling under different head coaches, could Sean Payton turn things around?

Sean Payton revamping Denver’s special teams side of the ball

One of the most important moves that Sean Payton has made for the Denver Broncos this offseason was bringing in Mike Westhoff as his assistant head coach.

While Westhoff will serve as his right hand, Payton enticing him out of retirement indicates that they are going all in on improving Denver’s special teams side of the ball.

Not only did the new Broncos head coach bring in Westhoff, but he also appointed veteran coach Ben Kotwica as the special teams coordinator — reuniting the pair who had previously spent time together on the New York Jets from 2007-2012.

In 2022, Denver struggled under Dwayne Stukes. The Broncos finished last season ranked dead last in kickoff return average (17.5 yards per return), 28th in field goal percentage (77.8%), 17th in Gross Punting Average (46.6 yards), 13th in the NFL in Net Punting Average (41.5 yards) indicating change needed to occur.

Payton and Broncos general manager George Paton have collaborated on personnel decisions which have moved the needle in a positive direction on paper regarding special teams.

Last week, Denver signed punter Riley Dixon to a two-year deal and rescinded the ERFA tender they initially placed on last year’s punter Corliss Waitman. Dixon averaged 48.4 yards per punt last season as a member of the Los Angeles Rams, including having a long of 67 yards, four punts bouncing for touchbacks, and 19 punts pinned inside the 20-yard line.

Flipping field position is crucial for Denver this season in the punting game, but the move for Dixon indicated Payton and Paton were looking for somebody who was more consistent — an area Waitman struggled with.

Competition is good for everybody and former 2022 fifth-round draft pick Montrell Washington will have competition at kick returner in 2023. The Broncos hardly had much of a sample size in the kick return game with opposing teams usually kicking the ball through the back of the endzone.

Denver brought in Tremon Smith from the Houston Texans to compete for the return job. Smith may primarily compete for kick returner with him having 94 career kick returns versus 9 total punt returns.

Washington will also likely compete to hold onto the starting punt return job next season, despite him being benched for the final two games. As Denver fills out their 90-man roster from free agency through the NFL Draft, players like Tyreik McAllister, Jalen Virgil, and Kendall Hinton are expected to be players who may compete for the job with Washington.

One of the bigger questions surrounding the Denver Broncos special teams unit is whether they’ll proceed with Brandon McManus as their kicker or look at other options.

Some of McManus’s struggles also impacted the special teams’ side of the ball in terms of field goal percentage (28th – 77.8%) last season. Despite being the primary points scorer for Denver last year, McManus dealt with some inconsistency issues.

He missed two extra points last season, with one of them being blocked, and went 28 of 36 on field goals made versus attempted. McManus remains as the only holdover from the 2015 Super Bowl 50 championship team.

It wouldn’t come as a shock if the Broncos looked to bring in another kicker during training camp to compete with McManus for the starting job in 2023.

One thing is very clear though, the Denver Broncos are aiming to improve drastically on special teams after years of struggling. Sean Payton isn’t just focused on turning around the offense, but has a major hand in revamping special teams.