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Special teams is the glue of the Denver Broncos

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Special teams is the glue of the Denver Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Britton Colquitt's right leg seemed to get as much work as Tim Tebow's left arm last year. He punted 101 times, which he likens to packing two years' worth of experience into one season.

This year, it's down to 37 punts, on pace for 66.

Such is life with Peyton Manning under center in Denver.

Colquitt's still getting plenty of work - as Matt Prater's holder. The Broncos kicker has already collected more PATs (31) than he did all of last season (30).

Yes, Manning's having a great year. Von Miller, too. It's the special teams, though, that's the binding to this story of the Broncos' resurgence.

The latest example of executive John Elway's Midas touch is Trindon Holliday. Claimed off waivers from Houston, the former track star from LSU needed barely a month to become the third player in team history to return a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same season.

``It just feels good to know that the special teams and I have to be accounted for in the game plan,'' Holliday said.

So, now the Broncos (6-3) ostensibly have it all: a top-notch punter who flips field position, a clutch kicker, superior coverage and protection units and a roadrunner of a returner.

Like so many other things at Dove Valley, it all started to coalesce when Manning chose to make his new home in Denver back on March 20, which led to Tebow's trade to the New York Jets.

Colquitt knew his workload would decrease considerably, making each punt he does get that much more critical. His numbers so far are better than last year's, when he set single-season team records for gross and net punting average while leading the league in punts dropped inside the 20-yard line.

He ranks second in the NFL with a 43.6-yard net punting average, having allowed a league-low 3.5 yards per return.

``Well, that's an incredible punt team,'' Colquitt said, noting how gunners Matt Willis and rookie Omar Bolden have been outstanding in coverage along with safety David Bruton, whom special teams coach Jeff Rodgers touts as the NFL's best personal protector.

Unlike Colquitt, Prater prepared for a heavier workload this season. Although he only has 13 field goal attempts so far, he's gotten more work on kickoffs and extra points this season.

``I thought we'd obviously kick off a lot more, we'd score a lot more touchdowns,'' Prater said. ``So, extra points are fine with me.''

Prater had 67 kickoffs last year, 47 of them touchbacks. He's on pace this year for 94 kickoffs and 64 touchbacks.

He had game-winning field goals on the last play in three consecutive games during the height of Tebowmania last year but hasn't had any make-or-break attempts this year. Still, he's as clutch as ever, nailing all five of his fourth-quarter attempts. That makes him 33 of 34 in his career in the fourth quarter or overtime. He's also made all three from 50-plus so far, making him 16 for 19 for his career, an NFL-best 79 percent conversion rate.

Prater also leads the AFC with 36 touchbacks, a product of both his aptitude and the altitude.

All of this is happening with a new long snapper, Aaron Brewer, an undrafted rookie out of San Diego State.

``I think as a snapper he's got the best mind-set that you can possibly have,'' Prater said.

California cool.

``Yeah, real chilled, nothing bothers him, real calm,'' Prater said. ``He's done a great job.''

``Yes, he has,'' concurred Colquitt, whose 47-yard gross punting average is just shy of the 47.4-yard mark he established a year ago and who is once again among the league leaders in dropping punts inside the 20.

``It helps with Peyton around,'' Colquitt said. ``We've had more punts closer to the 50 than last year.''

That's not a knock on Tebow, mind you - Colquitt was as big a fan of No. 15 as anyone - but the workload the fourth-year punter got in 2011 is paying big dividends this year.

``It was almost like I played two years in one last year, I was out there so much,'' Colquitt said. ``The field position mattered that much more. Now, I'm more rested, but definitely the experience from last year helped a lot and just to be more focused on: I might not punt that much this game, so I've got to make every one count.''

Colquitt doesn't mind being more of a sideline spectator this season, and Prater said he'd love trotting out for extra points every time.

The wild-card in all this is Holliday, whom the Broncos snatched off waivers from Houston three weeks after getting a firsthand look at the short speedster in a loss to the Texans in Week 3.

``We felt like he had game-breaking ability and game-changing ability and it took a couple of weeks for that to really show up but certainly it's shown up,'' Rodgers said.

It was more his teammates adjusting to him than the other way around, too.

``We hadn't had that many long returns up until that point and the plays are going longer, and the longer the return, the longer guys are going to have to hold their blocks,'' Rodgers said.

Hiccups, however, have occurred.

Holliday flipped the ball out of his hands too quickly on his 105-yard kickoff return TD at Cincinnati and the NFL acknowledged this week that Holliday's 76-yard punt return at Carolina last week should have been ruled a touchback instead of a touchdown because the ball came out before he crossed the goal line.

So, the Broncos have now instituted the ``Holliday Rule,'' where he has to hand the ball to Rodgers on the sideline the next time he scores.

And they certainly plan on him getting into the end zone again.

Notes: DE Elvis Dumervil said his sprained left shoulder held up well in limited duty at practice and he expects to play Sunday against San Diego: ``It felt good. I tested it aggressively and I didn't aggravate anything.'' ... SLB Von Miller ($21,000) and DT Kevin Vickerson ($15,000) are both appealing their fines for hits on Carolina QB Cam Newton. ... CB Tracy Porter practiced Friday but will miss his fifth straight game. ... RG Chris Kuper (ankle) is doubtful. ... Coach John Fox hinted he'll put LB D.J. Williams on the 53-man roster this weekend. Williams returned this week from a pair of suspensions that sidelined him for the first nine games and cost him about $4 million.

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Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 22, four days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

Five safe picks for the Redskins

Sometimes teams try to hit home runs with their draft picks. They may hit a few but they also will strike out a lot. Teams often are better off trying to hit solid singles and doubles. Here are five picks who would are unlikely to make many Pro Bowls but the Redskins would not regret the pick if they turned in the cards with their names on it. 

RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn—I’m starting off here with a player who would be a safe pick in the third round. Of course, the Redskins don’t have a third right now but if they do swing a trade and get one, Johnson would be a good pick. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, which is one reason why he might be available in the third. He is a grinder who will be an upgrade over Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley. 

DL Vita Vea, Washington—There is plenty of hand wringing over whether Vea is a three-down player or just a base defense nose tackle. But even if he can’t rush the passer very well his floor is a player who can go a long way towards helping the Redskins stop the run, a chronic weakness. This is why a lot of fans and media are urging the Redskins to not overthink this and take a player that will, at a minimum, bolster one of their weakest areas. 

OL Billy Price, Ohio State—He started 55 games for the Buckeyes, the most of any player in the storied history of the program. He did suffer the partial tear of a chest muscle in the combine but that will be fully healed by training camp. When he’s ready, he’s an explosive, smart, and powerful player. Just plug him in at left guard and the Redskins’ O-line is set with all home-grown talent. 

LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State—He doesn’t have the ceiling that the more heralded Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds have. However, he may have a higher floor. Smith is undersized, and Edmunds will be highly drafted based more on potential than on production. At 6-4, 256, Vander Esch has plenty of size, and he racked up 141 tackles last year on his way to defensive player of the year honors in the Mountain West. 

 CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado—The All-Pac-12 selection has the size and athleticism that add up to a safe pick in the second round. He needs some work on technique, but he has enough natural athletic ability—he competed in the decathlon—to be a productive cornerback right out of the gate. One other plus that fans will appreciate is that his strength is press coverage, not off man. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

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Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 30
—Training camp starts (7/26) 95
—Redskins @ Cardinals (9/9) 140

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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 4: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 4: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and the Washington Wizards battle Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night in Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

GAME 4: TORONTO RAPTORS AT WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Series: Raptors lead 2-1
Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 6 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 5 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Time to get even

After a momentous Game 3 win, the Wizards have breathed some life back into their season. On Sunday, they can make this a brand new series.

With a win in Game 4 for the Wizards, they would tie the series and send it back to Toronto ensuring another home game in Washington. A loss would put them down 3-1, a deficit that has historically been hard to overcome.

Only 11 teams have accomplished the feat, most notably the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors did the same that year in the conference finals. It has only been done three times since 2006. 

How will Raptors respond?

Game 3 took on a much different tone and style than the previous two and it played into the Wizards' hands. It was much more physical and Washington did a good job of instigating contact and using it to their advanage. After the game, several players highlighted Markieff Morris shoving OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka as a turning point.

Just because it worked in Game 3 doesn't mean it will carry over successfully in Game 4. Not only could the Raptors respond with their own dose of brutality, but the referees may try to nip anything of the sort in the bud early on.

It would not be surprising if Game 4 was officiated very tightly and if a message was sent in the first quarter to the players. After seeing how well it worked in Game 3, the Wizards will likely try to test the limits.

Playoff Beal

The Raptors will also try to adjust their defense following Bradley Beal's 28-point outburst in Game 3. He wasn't much of a factor in the first two games of the series, but broke out in Game 3 to lead the Wizards to a win.

The Wizards did a good job of getting Beal involved early. He was found for open looks from three in the first half and had two three-pointers in each of the first two quarters. Beal also took it upon himself to attack the rim and force the issue.

The Raptors held Beal back in the first two games by being rough with him and in Game 2 they got him in foul trouble. Surely he will be a big emphasis of their gameplan on Sunday.

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For more on the Wizards-Raptors series, check out or latest Wizards Tipoff podcast: