ENGLEWOOD – Trindon Holliday quickly put his historic playoff performance behind him just as he did all those gasping defenders scattered in his wake.
The former college track star dashed across TV screens in January, Denver’s diminutive returner racing right into history when he piled up an NFL-record 248 yards in returns against the Baltimore Ravens. He became the first NFL player ever to take back both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in a playoff game. Moreover, those touchdowns were the longest punt (90 yards) and kickoff (104 yards) returns for scores ever in the postseason.
Holliday’s breakout, however, was relegated to a footnote by Rahim Moore’s big blunder on Jacoby Jones’ long touchdown catch in the waning seconds of regulation that led to Denver’s stunning double-overtime loss to the Ravens.
If not for that, it might have been Holliday and not Jones putting his fingerprints on the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel’s late show and prancing across the floor this offseason with Karina Smirnoff on “Dancing With The Stars.”
“I mean, I don’t really look at it like that. It happened for that guy,” Holliday said Tuesday in his first comments since that historic and heartbreaking night in Denver four months ago. “They did what they had to do to win it, and he got a chance to be a part of that. It’s not nothing major to me. I just have to work at it this year to try to do the same thing they did.”
Holliday was a perfect 16-0 in the regular season last year. He started his season with the Houston Texans, but after their 5-0 start, they jettisoned the returner and the Broncos grabbed him off waivers, then won their next 11 games with Holliday leading the league with a 32.5-yard kick return average and a 10.8-yard punt return average from Week 6 on.
The 5-foot-5 sprinter was an eight-time All-American in track and field at LSU, winning the 2009 NCAA title by running the 100-meter dash in 10 seconds flat. But he really made himself a household name Jan. 12 – until the Broncos blew their late lead and were sent packing by the eventual Super Bowl champs.
“It’s been really tough being that we came out and gave it all we had in that game,” Holliday said. “I look back on it sometimes. But it’s nothing that I can dwell on. We lost it as a team, so we’ve just got to come back, get ready this year and try to make it better.”
Holliday, who also returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in consecutive games during the regular season, figures he can be even better in 2013 with a full offseason in Denver’s system. He’s also hoping to play more than a cameo role on offense after being used sparingly last season, when he caught a pair of passes from Peyton Manning.
“Yeah, I would like to be used more on offense, but it’s the coaches’ call. Whatever coaches need, whatever my team needs, I’ll be ready to go,” Holliday said.
Even on an offense loaded with the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme and newcomers Wes Welker and Montee Ball, the Broncos would love to get the ball into Holliday’s hands as much as possible.
“I’m glad I’m not kicking to him anymore, and he’s on our team now,” teammate Matt Prater said. “He’s a fun guy to watch because any time he touches the ball, it’s exciting. He can score on any play.”
He can also put it on the ground at any time, part of what led to the Texans giving up on him.
Holliday said he’s working hard on ball security – he fumbled five times last season, often making fans, teammates and coaches cringe as much as celebrate whenever he touched the ball and turned on those jets.
“Oh yes, that’s the main priority. You can’t go anywhere without the ball,” Holliday said. “So, starting Monday in OTAs, we’re going to work on more ball security than anything.”
With Holliday, Prater and punter Britton Colquitt, who is the franchise leader in career gross (46.1) and net (39.5) punting averages, the Broncos sport one of the most dynamic special teams in the league.
After slumping down the stretch last season, Prater said he expects greater consistency this season because this is the first offseason he’s spent in Denver after missing 2011 (lockout) and 2012 (holdout).
This is Prater’s first offseason working with Broncos strength coach Luke Richesson, who Prater said “is doing a great job with all the core stuff, which for kickers and punters is huge. A lot of it is core and legs, feet and everything else. So hopefully that’ll get me stronger and I’ll have a bigger leg next year going into the season.”
Colquitt ranked third in the NFL last season in net punting with a 42.1-yard average, second with a 6-yard return average and second with 45 punts inside the 20 with only seven touchbacks.
He signed a free agent tender this spring that will pay him $1,323,000 next season, although the Broncos have told Colquitt they hope to discuss a long-term contract before the season.
It won’t be anything like what his older brother, Dustin, got with the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason: five years and $18.75 million, making him the highest-paid punter in the NFL.
“I pinch myself every day driving to work that I’m blessed to do this job. The fact that you get paid to do this is even better,” Britton Colquitt said. “So I think that’s just icing on the cake. Dustin played eight years in tough situations with tough records. ... So he’s earned it.”