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Broncos now on hunt for returners

7/25/2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With an established roster of a team looking for its fourth consecutive AFC West title, there are few spots where things are wide open for a starting job with the Denver Broncos.

Maybe middle linebacker, but Nate Irving has spent all of the offseason work there. Maybe right tackle. Maybe, if the Broncos decide Chris Clark, who has been with the starters through much of the offseason work and early on in training camp, isn't up for the job.

But kick returner and punt returner? Now, those are other matters entirely.

"We're looking for options," Broncos head coach John Fox said. "We don't do a whole lot of that in the offseason so we'll get into that pretty heavy out here. I think we've got some viable prospects."

The Broncos made the decision early on in the offseason that they would let Trindon Holliday -- six total return touchdowns in less than two seasons with the team -- move on in free agency. Though he lined up as a receiver in practice, Holliday was a specialist who played just four plays on offense last season.

In the end Holliday wasn't consistent enough in his decision-making and was too unreliable catching the ball for the Broncos' liking.

That decision still leaves things wide open as the Broncos work through training camp's early going. They have proven returners on the roster who also happen to be regulars in the lineup as well, such as wide receiver Emmaniel Sanders and wide receiver Wes Welker.

Sanders will be a starter on offense, as will Welker in the team's three-wide receiver look. And while Fox isn't opposed to using a starter at times as a returner, he would like to avoid it if he can.

"There's no doubt when a guy's playing full-time at a position, whether he's a DB or a receiver, whatever position he might play ... that's a lot of wear and tear," Fox said. "It's not that you would never use it ... you might determine you use a guy in some situations, but I think it's hard to play on offense or defense full-time and return full-time, I think it takes its toll."

Last season Fox often used Welker, who suffered two concussions in 2013, as a punt returner when the Broncos were set to field the ball deep in their own territory and feared Holliday may make a mistake.

Since the Broncos don't do that much in the return game during OTAs and minicamp, that means it's getting daily attention in training camp. A smattering of candidates have worked as kickoff returners in the first two days.

Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer has taken snaps -- though he fumbled a kickoff he tried to catch over his head Friday -- as have safety Omar Bolden, undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse and wide receiver Andre Caldwell.

Caldwell returned six kickoffs last season while Bolden returned two. They are the most likely kickoff returners at this point. The Broncos signed Burse as an undrafted rookie from Fresno State because of his ability to return kickoffs and punts, but most scouts believed in the pre-draft evaluations that he was far more proficient as a punt returner.

Latimer did not return punts or kickoffs in any of his games at Indiana, but with top-tier speed to go with his size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), the Broncos wanted to take a look at what he had to offer in the job. Latimer did suffer a foot fracture in his pre-draft workouts and is still coming back from that.

"We're going to get plenty of work on it every day we're on the practice field," Fox said. "We don't have the job filled, but we have the candidates, we'll let them compete and see what happens."

"I'll do whatever they want me to do," Latimer said. "If that means be a returner, I'll do it."