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Broncos bogged down by poor special teams play

August 21, 2019
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Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) runs after the catch against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL preseason football game, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) runs after the catch against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL preseason football game, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Broncos coach Vic Fangio is absolving left tackle Garett Bolles of his latest infraction, a holding penalty that wiped out a 45-yard catch by Emmanuel Sanders against the 49ers, but he has no excuse for Denver’s continued dismal special teams performances.

Fangio said Wednesday that the Broncos won’t bring in another quarterback after rookie Drew Lock sprained the thumb on his throwing hand, which is expected to sideline him into the regular season. That leaves incumbent Kevin Hogan as Joe Flacco’s backup.

The big blemishes in Denver’s 24-15 preseason loss Monday night were Lock’s injury, the holding call on Bolles and more bad plays on special teams, including Nick Williams’ muffed punt that went off his chest and 49ers kick returner Richie James Jr.’s 40-yard average on two returns.

Bolles’ hold of Damontre Moore negated Denver’s biggest play on the night that Sanders made a triumphant return to the lineup following double ankle surgery in the offseason, but Fangio defended Bolles.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Fangio said. “He was supposed to get a chip from the tight end (Troy Fumagalli) and he set accordingly to get that chip. The tight end didn’t chip him, which put Garett in a bad spot and caused that holding penalty. So, that wasn’t Garett at all.”

Fangio has said before that Bolles is progressing under the tutelage of new O-line coach Mike Munchak. The Broncos need dramatic improvement in Year 3 from their 2017 first-round draft pick who’s been flagged 29 times in his two seasons in the NFL, including 19 times for holding and seven for false starts.

His infractions have cost the Broncos 366 yards of field position and negated two touchdowns.

Fangio said early in training camp that his desire is for Bolles “just to become a solid NFL left tackle.”

“The thing you always have to remember about him is he had such a limited football background prior to coming to the NFL that he’s still in the growing stages more so than other guys,” Fangio said last month.

Fangio likes the way Bolles has worked alongside rookie left guard Dalton Risner and center Connor McGovern. His bigger concern is on the right side, where guard Ronald Leary is returning from a torn Achilles tendon and tackle Ja’Wuan James has been bothered by a sore hip.

What really perturbs Fangio is the lack of progress on special teams after three preseason games.

“Yeah, big-time concerns because that’s two weeks in a row our special teams has gotten whipped,” Fangio said. “We’re going to have to get it fixed. Obviously we don’t have 53 guys ready to be picked on this team yet.”

Although he said playing his starters next weekend against the Los Angeles Rams was “up in the air right now,” Fangio reiterated that he “might have to put some starters out there if it doesn’t improve” on the return and coverage units.

He noted that when he was on the 49ers coaching staff, star linebacker NaVorro Bowman was on the punt team for three straight years, “so it’s not uncharted waters.”

Aside from kicker Brandon McManus, the special teams have been dismal, revealing a lack of roster depth and showing how injuries to players such as fullback Andy Janovich and others matter.

Still, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said he’s stumped by the poor play in the kicking game.

“I guess kids don’t really understand this is how you make the team,” Harris said.

Notes: Fangio said ILB Todd Davis (calf), who got hurt when camp opened, is recovering slower than hoped and won’t practice this week. ... Fangio held TE Noah Fant (foot) out of practice but said his injury was minor. ... The Broncos placed TE Bug Howard and CB Horace Richardson on IR. The Broncos replaced them by claiming two players off waivers: T Tyler Jones from the Jets and LB Dadi Nicolas from the Colts.

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