One of the most closely-watched roster battles of the preseason has come to an end. Brandon McManus will be kicking for the Denver Broncos. Connor Barth has been kicked to the curb.
The Broncos announced on Wednesday that they had released Barth, freeing up the roster spot needed for guard Evan Mathis, who they just signed to a one-year deal. The 29-year-old Barth joined the Broncos for the final five games of the 2014 season; replacing McManus as placekicker due to the youngster’s accuracy struggles on field goals. After his release, it was not long before McManus was added to the practice squad, then back to the active roster as a kickoff specialist; a facet of the game in which Barth struggled.
Barth handled eight kickoffs for the Broncos in 2014, none of which went for touchbacks. McManus on the other hand, booted 64 of his 91 kickoffs for touchbacks last season. Field goals however, were an entirely different story. Barth went 15-for-16 (93.8 percent) last season, while McManus went 9-for-13 (69.2 percent). Both McManus and Barth have impressed during the preseason/training camp; even hitting 70-yard and 65-yard field goals in practice, respectively.
The biggest disparity between the two in camp performance again looked to be leg strength on kickoffs, where Barth struggled to consistently get into the end zone ranging between 3.75-3.95 seconds in hangtime, which all too often resulted in big returns (such as the 103-yard touchdown by Tyler Lockett against the Seattle Seahawks on Aug. 14). McManus has consistently showed the ability to kickoff for touchbacks, with hangtime around 4.2 seconds.
Going into his second season, this marks the second straight campaign in which he has beaten out a veteran to earn the job as kicker; as last year Denver elected to keep him over Matt Prater, cutting their longterm leg just prior to his return from suspension. Whether McManus can become more reliable kicking field goals remains to be seen. Distance was never the issue, as the 24-year-old instead struggled with accuracy; something special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis feels is easily explained.
“He’s just like any other player… young,” DeCamillis said of McManus. “Unfortunately, you look at kickers and they should make everything, right, whoever they are. If they haven’t done it a bunch yet, they’re going to have those hiccups. You have to be able to come back from it and hopefully he did.”
While the kicking position seems to be settled for the time being, there is still a competition to see who will be the team’s punter next season. Incumbent Britton Colquitt took a $1.4 million pay cut during training camp. That did not however, prevent the Broncos from claiming Spencer Lanning off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just 11 days later.