ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos know firsthand the kind of impact that Dave Toub has on special-teams play.
Toub’s units have tormented the Broncos over the years. With the Chiefs last season, Tyreek Hill returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown against Denver. Toub had Devin Hester as his returner when he was the Chicago Bears’ special-teams coach before that. Hester returned a punt and a kickoff for a score against the Broncos in a rain-swept 37-34 victory over Denver in November 2007.
The Broncos interviewed Toub for their head coaching job earlier this year. But when they hired Vance Joseph instead, Joseph then hired Toub’s special-teams assistant -- Brock Olivo -- with the hope some of Toub’s teachings rubbed off.
The Broncos need to raise the bar on special teams.
“That guy has some energy," Broncos punter Riley Dixon said. “To see somebody who cares so much about it, as much as we do, because so many times, special teams is overlooked by some coaches. Or they don’t have the passion that us specialists have for that position or for that part of the game. To see a guy with as much fire and energy that he has is awesome."
What Toub has done in recent years shouldn’t be minimized or ignored. This past week, Football Outsiders ranked the top 30 special-teams units over the last 30 NFL seasons and Toub coached five of them: the Chiefs in 2013 and 2016 and the Bears in 2006, 2007 and 2011.
The colorful Olivo, who coached football in Italy and ran for office in Missouri’s ninth congressional district, has repeatedly credited Toub for preparing him for the job. Olivo hopes to replicate even some of Toub’s success.
“You pull together all of the good ideas that you think are the best of what we know and we roll from there," Olivo said. “The majority of it is what I brought over from Kansas City, no question."
There is room to grow, to be sure. The Broncos have prioritized special-teams play. They have practiced it, expended plenty of time and effort and yet have reaped few rewards since they decided Trindon Holliday’s fumbles outweighed his touchdown potential after the 2013 season.
Omar Bolden looked to be a solution in the return game -- he had a 77-yard kickoff return in 2014 to go with 83-yard punt return for a touchdown in 2015 -- but Bolden battled injuries. So, in the last three seasons, the Broncos’ return game has largely been a play-it-safe, just-catch-the-ball affair.
The Broncos haven’t had their primary punt returner bring one back longer than 22 yards since 2013. Bolden only returned five punts in 2015, when he scored his touchdown.
“Brock is an awesome dude," Dixon said. “He’s super hands-on."
The Broncos are also replacing special-teams captain Kayvon Webster, who signed with the Los Angeles Rams in free agency. But the Broncos selected two potential returners in the draft this past April -- wide receivers Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie -- and believe they have the team speed up and down the roster to give Olivo a quality stating point.
Olivo hung a large chart in the team meeting room that will ultimately tell the tale. It’s a points system Olivo will use to rank each of the Broncos’ special-teams players as well as where their units rank in the league each week of the season.
“We put that week’s point leader’s picture front and center so everyone could see it," Olivo said. “At the end of the year, we tally up the points and name a points leader ... it creates interest and competition. The guys are fired up. They can’t wait to get in on Monday to see how many points they made, or what place they’re in amongst the team. It’s a great way to create interest and competition. ... It creates that brotherhood. Special teams is kind of a niche, and so we do everything we can to make it feel as special as it is."