ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - The Denver Broncos might be sacrificing some kick return yards in exchange for more accuracy between the uprights.
"We're about to find out," coach John Fox said Wednesday, 24 hours after the Broncos replaced first-year pro Brandon McManus with five-year pro Connor Barth.
Barth is an 84 per cent field goal kicker over his five seasons in the NFL and the most accurate kicker in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. McManus was waived after making just 69 per cent of his field goal attempts, which ranked last in the league.
McManus, however, ranked second in the league behind only Indy's Pat McAfee in both touchbacks on kickoffs (48) and touchback rate (75 per cent).
Only 7.1 per cent of Barth's career kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks — 11 of 156 — although all of those came when the football was still teed up at the 30-yard line, not the 35, which has drastically reduced runbacks in recent seasons.
Barth hasn't kicked off since 2010, when he had just one touchback in 78 kickoffs.
"Obviously, kicking off from the 35 is awesome," Barth said Wednesday following his first practice since signing a two-year deal. "And obviously kickoff here in Denver with the altitude helps a little bit.
"But it's been something I've always worked on and wanted to work on because I haven't had to do it since (2010), so I'm just excited to go out there and kick off again and kick field goals as well."
With the kicking change, the Broncos' kickoff coverage units are bracing for more action starting Sunday night at Kansas City.
"The only thing now is that we just have to expect the ball to come out and really focus on our lanes," tight end Virgil Green said. "So, I don't really think it's going to be that big of a deal because we've been harping for the last seven, eight weeks on being a better kickoff coverage team.
"And the upside to that, too, could be we have more opportunities to get them to turn the ball over," Green said. "There will be more chances to get our offence the ball back with good field position."
Barth, who won a kickoff Tuesday against Jay Feely, 38, missed all of last season after tearing the Achilles tendon in his right foot during a charity basketball game. He returned to the Buccaneers this year, but was beaten out by rookie Patrick Murray.
"I'm just happy for the opportunity and to be back out kicking again," said Barth, who also tried out with the Lions this season.
Barth said he was glad his comeback game comes at Arrowhead Stadium.
"Luckily, I've actually kicked in Kansas City. I kicked there my rookie year so I have a little bit of experience in that stadium," he said. "Unfortunately playing in Tampa, I didn't get many primetime games, so it's exciting to get the opportunity to play in front of a lot of people and I'm just excited to help this team win some games."
Barth also said he's given up hoops for good.
"No basketball anymore," he said. "I'm going to stick to golf or watching a sport instead."
He said the torn Achilles tendon that sidelined him in 2013 was "just a fluke."
"It's always the times that you try not to get injured that you get injured. So I was trying not to get injured and I just pushed off the wrong way. I had worked out with my trainer that morning doing a lot more explosive movements, so I was shocked," he said.
Barth's return to the NFL took longer than many people, including himself, expected.
"People ask me that every day. My parents ask me that every day," Barth said. "There is one kicker and punter and snapper (per team). There are no backups so someone unfortunately has to get injured, which you don't ever want to happen, or someone doesn't do well. It's always longer than you want it to be, but I just stayed ready and I knew something would hopefully break and it did here."
He said his Achilles is no longer an issue.
"Everything feels exactly the way it did," Barth said. "I was healthy when I came back in the off-season in April in Tampa. It feels great. Hopefully it's stronger than it was. Usually when you get a repair it gets even stronger. It feels great."
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