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Diontae Spencer likes Broncos new need for speed

Says rookies 'add something we didn't have'
Posted at 2:28 PM, Jun 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-02 17:01:42-04

DENVER — Diontae Spencer turned his phone in the opposite direction to show his workout lab.

It was his mother's lawn in Louisiana, a stone's throw from passing traffic.

"You can see my helmet and cones set up," Spencer said. "I just did a little circuit. Nothing too major."

Speed never has a bad day. Or an off day. Spencer continues working relentlessly, looking to build on his first season in Denver when he emerged as a Pro Bowl alternate punt returner and intriguing receiver. Following their fourth straight playoff absence — the second longest since 1977 — the Broncos responded with vigor offensively, transforming from ginger ale to Red Bull.

The Broncos drafted receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J Hamler in the first two rounds, their college careers casting them as Fast & Curious.

"I liked it, man. You look at the guys we added. Yes, they bring speed. But I feel like they both bring something to the table we didn't have. They bring speed and route running. I just feel like those different elements add to all the pieces we have now. It's going to boost our offense," Spencer said. "The league is changing. Everybody is trying to get faster on that side of the ball."

Spencer, 28, broke through in the NFL last season, landed by the Broncos after final cuts when the Steelers deemed him expendable. All Spencer did was charge the battery on one of the Broncos' most glaring needs. He returned 26 punts for 208 yards with a long of 42. His average of 8.0 yards per attempt represented a dramatic improvement over the team's 4.4 yard average in 2018, which ranked dead last.

A former star at McNeese State, the 5-foot-8, 170-pounder was always a weapon on special teams, though in a different venue. Spencer starred in the Canadian Football League for four seasons, returning 191 punts at a 11.3 yard clip. The skill set did not change, but Spencer admitted his approach required finessing.

"The biggest thing for me is that I learned that it's not about making that big play every single time. That's something I had to adjust to coming into the NFL. In the CFL, there's no fair catches. I had to break that habit," Spencer said. "I had to be smart and focus on putting our offense in good field position. And I felt as the year went on I got better at that and more comfortable. I have to continue to work on it, and I feel like I am going to get better and better."

The addition of Hamler prompted speculation he would claim the punt return spot. Broncos coach Vic Fangio made it clear after the draft that Spencer remains the leader for the job.

"We like Spence. It will take a lot for us to not still have Spence do that," Fangio said. "We feel good about our return game with both KJ and Spence.”

The Broncos could carry six or seven receivers. It's harder to project the roster puzzle with the teams running virtual OTAs and no on-field reps. As it stands, the group includes Pro Bowler and leader Courtland Sutton, Jeudy, Hamler, Tim Patrick, a special teams ace, and Spencer, with DaeSean Hamilton, Tyre Cleveland and Juwann Winfree in the mix for one, possibly two spots.

In year two, Spencer aims to show he can contribute offensively. He caught only six passes last season, climbing uphill after missing training camp.

"We are going into a new offense with a new coordinator (Pat Shurmur), it's something new. We are intrigued. We want to learn. For me it was a bonus, what new things are we going to bring to the table and make us more explosive?" Spencer said. "I was behind the curve last year trying to learn. Now, figuring out (receivers) Coach Z's personality (Zach Azzanni), how he coaches and getting a fresh start, it's helped me tremendously."

While acknowledging why there are no in-person workouts because of the coronavirus epidemic, Spencer misses his teammates. He has the type of personality that lights up a room like a Christmas tree. He has stayed in touch through FaceTime calls and Zoom bible study sessions. However, he looks forward to seeing guys in person.

"They are probably mad at me at now because I FaceTime them all the time to check on them," Spencer said with a smile. "That's my energy. I bring positive energy. It's something that I feel like is part of my DNA. That never changes. I am an upbeat guy. I love to have fun. I try to be myself, and i think they enjoy it."

With the offensive makeover and a defense that held opponents to 146 points over the final eight games, seventh best in the NFL, the Broncos can be optimistic without rolling eyes. It doesn't hurt that the players believe in their quarterback, Drew Lock, who is embracing pressure and determined to end the spinning carousel since Peyton Manning retired.

"He is Drew. He's not trying to be anybody else. Even going back to college days, he was that same guy that was dancing, bringing energy to the team. I feel like he's doing that same thing now," Spencer said. "Guys are attracted to energy that's not fake. And I feel like Drew is being himself. Once he gets comfortable, the sky is the limit. Guys see he's going in the right direction. You want to be part of that and help a young guy like that be successful."