Broncos may have found punt return weapon
Rookie Kalif Raymond runs back four kicks for 40 yards in his debut.
jacksonville, fla.» Kalif Raymond was admittedly anxious and full of energy leading up to Sunday’s game against Jacksonville. It marked his first NFL game.
There was no chance that the diminutive rookie receiver and returner would be eased into action.
His role, as the Broncos’ primary punt returner replacing the struggling Jordan Norwood, was packed with pressure.
“Once I got hit the first time, it just felt like football, and I can do football,” Raymond said. “It went well, but I want to take one to the house.”
Raymond didn’t score a touchdown, but he did have the best day a Broncos punt returner had all season, with four returns for 40 yards.
The highlights were a 19-yard return near the end of the first half. He was hit late out of bounds, which gave the Broncos another 15 yards. The field position set up Denver for a short field goal before halftime and a 10-3 lead. On his next punt return, he ran through an arm tackle and gained 22 yards.
Raymond’s only negative play came on his first punt return, when he was unsure whether he should field the punt, so he stayed away. The ball bounced an additional 15 yards, costing Denver field position.
Raymond said he took the lesser of two evils on that return, sacrificing field position for a potential turnover on a low punt that didn’t have much hang time.
“I’m encouraged. I like his confidence back there. The kid is trying to make plays,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “That one he didn’t catch that hurt us field position-wise, that was very, very difficult to get to.”
With a struggling offense, the Broncos’ defense needs somebody or something to take pressure away so it doesn’t have to carry the team to every victory.
“I want to show them I can affect the game and be a difference-maker. I don’t want to be the guy just back there to catch it,” Raymond said. “I want to be a dangerous guy back there. Today was a good day, but I’m hungry for more.”
The Broncos’ Kalif Raymond, making his first appearance in an NFL game, catches a punt against the Jaguars during the first quarter Sunday at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. John Leyba, The Denver Post