ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — They say Tim Tebow makes everyone around him better. Nobody would agree more than a player who’s never on the field with him.
That would be Britton Colquitt. In a season that’s turning almost everyone on the roster into a celebrity in Denver, even Colquitt, the punter, is getting into the act. The third-year veteran is making a Pro Bowl bid and helping spark a playoff push by putting the Broncos ahead in the field-position game that has become so vital to their success.
With a game against Chicago and dangerous returner Devin Hester coming Sunday, Colquitt is ranked third in the league in the all-important category of net yardage (41.3) and fourth in placing kicks inside the 20 (23). He’s on pace to break Mike Horan’s 21-year-old team record for net average. One notable byproduct of all these stats: Broncos opponents have started nine more drives inside their own 20 than the Broncos have.
“It is nice to know that you’re not one of those teams that has to” always take chances on offense, Colquitt said. “They just understand that our defense, the way they’ve been playing, if I give us good field position, our defense is going to stand ground.”
Indeed, Denver’s season thus far has turned into Exhibit A for coaches who like to preach the “All three phases” mantra — offense, defense and special teams. Until last week, Tebow was doing the bulk of his damage in the fourth quarter, which put pressure on the defense and the kickers to keep Denver in games.
And even after Tebow’s best all-around game — 10 for 15 for 202 yards and two scores last week in Minnesota — the Broncos still lead the league in three-and-out possessions with 44.
That sets things up for Colquitt, who this week will likely be asked to kick away from Hester. Hester has three return touchdowns this season (two punt, one kickoff). Last time the Bears played the Broncos, he returned a punt and a kickoff for scores.
“I don’t want to sit here and blab all over the world what we’re going to do,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “We are aware of him and that he’s a great player.”
Colquitt comes from — yes, they do, in fact, exist — a family of punters.
His father was seven-year NFL veteran Craig Colquitt, who won two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers in the 1970s. Colquitt’s older brother, Dustin, punts for Kansas City. The Chiefs played the Bears last week and the older brother punted 11 times, allowing Hester only three returns for 39 yards.
“The thing is, in this league, there are so many guys now that are great returners and you’ve just got to be on your game all the time,” Britton Colquitt said.
He has been this year, and with five of Denver’s seven wins coming by four points or less, there hasn’t been much margin for error.
Two weeks ago against San Diego, for example, Fox chose to punt twice in overtime on fourth-and-1 from around midfield. Colquitt pinned the first one at the 8 and kicked the next one 61 yards for a touchback. The tilt in field position eventually led to a Denver win on a Matt Prater field goal with 29 seconds left.
The same tilt in field position goes a long way in explaining how the Broncos have turned a 1-4 start into a push for the playoffs.
“Anytime you make them go the long, hard way, I think you’re better off,” defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. “It allows us to be more aggressive, at least early in the drives. You always feel a lot more confident when you walk out there and they’ve got 90 yards to go instead of 50 yards to go.”
By EDDIE PELLS, AP National Writer
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