Mark Kis­zla:

Re­turn duty may be way to ros­ter

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Kos­mider

“Colin Kaeper­nick is the Lord Volde­mort of the NFL. He is the quar­ter­back who must not be named … as a po­ten­tial starter or even a backup, any­where in a league.”

Isa­iah McKen­zie shot his right arm into the air and peered to­ward the clouds as a foot­ball was fired out of a ma­chine 50 yards in front of him.

The ball bar­reled through the air as McKen­zie drifted un­der it. He shifted un­der the ball’s shadow un­til it smacked his pads with a thud, then gripped the ball tightly be­tween his arms and burst up the field.

Chris Gould, the Bron­cos as­sis­tant spe­cial teams coach, saw McKen­zie field­ing one punt af­ter an­other fol­low­ing the team’s prac­tice Wed­nes­day and of­fered a tweak. He showed McKen­zie how to catch the ball di­rectly in the cen­ter of his chest — as op­posed to field­ing it on one side of his body or the other — which would al­low him to more quickly cut up the field.

So McKen­zie ad­justed and kept fling­ing his arm into the air, ask­ing for an­other ball to be launched.

“All the coaches talk about the finer de­tails,” McKen­zie said. “I’m start­ing to see that all the coaches like de­tails. It’s the small things that can make the big things hap­pen.”

McKen­zie should know. The 5foot-8, 173-pound rookie, a fifthround pick out of Ge­or­gia, is the se­cond-light­est player listed on the train­ing camp ros­ter be­hind Kalif Ray­mond (5-9, 160). Only

fel­low rookie De’An­gelo Hen­der­son, a 5-7 run­ning back, is shorter than McKen­zie. But McKen­zie’s chance to make the team rests on a big-play abil­ity on spe­cial teams the Bron­cos have longed for the past few sea­sons.

In three sea­sons at Ge­or­gia, McKen­zie re­turned five punts for touch­downs, a school record aided by the speed that al­lowed him to clock a 40-yard dash time at the NFL com­bine of 4.42 sec­onds.

Those num­bers were ap­peal­ing to the Bron­cos, who have had just one punt re­turned for a touch­down in the past three sea­sons and were 15th in av­er­age punt re­turn yardage (8.5) last sea­son.

Un­cer­tainty ex­ists at nearly ev­ery level of the Bron­cos’ of­fense through nearly two weeks of train­ing camp. At quar­ter­back, of­fen­sive line, tight end, run­ning back and wide re­ceiver, bat­tles wage on.

But one thing is cer­tain: the unit would greatly ben­e­fit from im­proved start­ing field po­si­tion in 2017. That makes McKen­zie an in­trigu­ing player to watch.

“I’ll tell you where it starts, it’s with the con­fi­dence,” spe­cial teams coach Brock Olivo said of McKen­zie. “He wants the ball in his hands and he likes the fact that there is a (Kansas City wide re­ceiver) Tyreek Hill in our di­vi­sion, a guy that he can strive to be as good as or bet­ter some­day. I know he’s think­ing that in his head be­cause he’s very con­fi­dent and I love that about him.”

Hill, him­self a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft, was among the most elec­tric play­ers, let alone rook­ies, in the league last sea­son. He scored a com­bined 12 touch­downs and had at least one score via re­cep­tion (6), rush (3), punt re­turn (2) and kick re­turn (1).

Olivo sees some sim­i­lar­i­ties in the two play­ers.

“You see that, the quick­ness, the lat­eral move­ment, the burst, the tough­ness to stand in there,” Olivo said. “Again, we’ll see com­ing up in the first pre­sea­son game and through­out pre­sea­son just how much guts the kid has when gun­ners are run­ning down in front of his face.”

McKen­zie doesn’t want his con­tri­bu­tion be lim­ited to re­turn­ing punts. Be­fore he made his way in front of the punt ma­chine Wed­nes­day, McKen­zie spent more than 20 min­utes af­ter prac­tice run­ning ex­tra pass­ing routes.

“Be­ing small you have to play big,” McKen­zie said. “I come out here with the mind­set that I can do any­thing a 6-5 guy can do. I can do any­thing any other guy can do. With my speed, I may not be tall enough, but I know I can jump and catch the ball.”

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos re­ceiver Isa­iah McKen­zie re­turned five punts for touch­downs dur­ing his col­lege ca­reer at Ge­or­gia.

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