During the first mandatory minicamp practice, All-Pro and Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Surtain II was seen returning punts. When asked about it during the press conference after the practice, head coach Sean Payton gave some important clarity.
""You start asking questions, and you start getting answers. He did it in high school. I want to know who we are going to if (Option 1) isn't ready. There are 53 on your roster and 47 on gameday. If I need a gunner taken out of the game, then who better to do that than Patrick. That's what he does for a living. It's not just offense go over here; defense go over here, and the kicking game go over here.""- Sean Payton during press conference
Sean Payton was very clear that Patrick Surtain is not going to be the Denver Broncos starting punt returner. During the press conference, he also stated:
""If Surtain can help us as a returner when needed, then we'll have him ready.""- Sean Payton during press conference
Obviously being a kick returner or a punt returner is risky, because the impact of the tackles they get is harder. This is because the returner is running fast and the defender is probably running at the same speed but in the opposing direction, so the impact is way harder. Physics can explain it in a better way, but since this is football, I'm not focusing the article on it.
Pat Surtain II is one of the best, if not the best player on the Denver Broncos roster, so if you want for him to stay fully healthy, you probably would not want for him to be a returner, but as coach Payton said, it's just in case the starters and/or backups get injured, and if the Broncos want him as an emergency returner, he (Surtain) must practice for that specific role.
Star cornerbacks have been kick and/or punt returners over time, the biggest names include Deion Sanders and former Broncos' Aquib Talib. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, during last season (2022-23), only three players with a cornerback/safety position were the punt returners for their respective team, these are Marcus Jones (Patriots), Desmond King II (Texans), and Keisean Nixon (Packers).
Should Surtain really be the Broncos' emergency punt returner?