Souped-up special teams ready for Hall

By FRANK SCHWAB THE GAZETTE Updated: November 30, 2005 at 12:00 am • Published: November 30, 2005
ENGLEWOOD - Dante Hall shouldn’t have a free ride through the Denver Broncos’ special teams this season. Hall, the Kansas City Chiefs’ superb kickoff and punt returner, ran untouched for a 97-yard kickoff return and a touchdown to start last year’s game against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. In 2003, he had a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown to beat the Broncos at Kansas City. In the offseason, the Broncos decided their special teams weren’t good enough. They added punter Todd Sauerbrun, re-signed special teams captain Keith Burns and drafted players with special teams in mind. In the first meeting between the Broncos and Chiefs this year Hall had one punt return for 10 yards and averaged 25 yards on five kickoff returns, which is an improvement over Hall’s previous damage. “That set a big tempo for us and it gave us a lot of confidence as a unit, to say, ‘Hey, we are good,’” Sauerbrun said. The Broncos haven’t allowed a kickoff return longer than 36 yards this season, haven’t allowed a punt return longer than 20 yards and are pleased with how much better they are in the kicking game. Denver is allowing two fewer yards per return this season (7.2) than last season. Their kickoff coverage is worse — 24.8 yards per return in 2005, 24.0 in 2004. “It’s the best I’ve been around since I’ve been in the league,” said Sauerbrun, who is in his 11th NFL season. “Our coverage units, I have all the faith in the world in them. We’re not worried about anybody, because if everybody goes out and plays as good as they can, we’re going to be successful.” Sauerbrun might be the biggest difference this season. On Hall’s long punt return two years ago, Micah Knorr’s boot didn’t reach the end zone, which gave Hall a chance to return it. On last year’s opening kickoff return, Jason Baker hit a line drive straight to Hall, giving Denver’s coverage men very little chance to stop him. Sauerbrun was acquired in a trade with Carolina this offseason. He is eighth in the NFL in net punting average (38.7) and fourth in gross average (45.3). Sauerbrun isn’t the only reason Denver is better on special teams. Burns, who was with Tampa Bay last year, leads Denver with 15 specialteams tackles. He might miss Sunday’s game with a knee injury, but the team has others they hope can cover Hall. All three rookie cornerbacks, Darrent Williams, Karl Paymah and Domonique Foxworth, have contributed on special teams and other players like cornerback Curome Cox have emerged. Hall has a touchdown on a kickoff return and a 52-yard punt return this season. “We’re going to have a great time covering those kicks,” said linebacker Louis Green, who is second on the Broncos with 10 special-teams tackles. “It’s a regular game and every week you prepare yourself the same way, but I’m not going to sit here and say we’re not thinking about him back there. He’s a great returner.” Walls to Raiders Cornerback Lenny Walls, a starter for the Broncos at the beginning of the season who was waived on Monday and grew up in northern California, was claimed by Oakland. “It’s sort of a dream come true,” said Walls’ agent, Peter Schaffer. “We’re appreciative the Broncos released him per his request. They did not have to do that. It shows the type of class organization we were dealing with.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-4891 or fschwab@gazette.com NEXT Denver (9-2) at Kansas City (7-4), 2:15 p.m. Sunday, CBS, 740/850 AM
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