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Hebron, Elam add something special to the Broncos . . .


MIAMI -- The Denver Broncos won't be a mile high in Super Bowl XXXIII like they were when Jason Elam launched a record-tying 63-yard field goal this season.

They'll be at sea level in Pro Player Stadium, where Vaughn Hebron returned a regular-season kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.

Either way -- kicking or receiving, in the upper altitudes or at ground zero -- the Broncos are capable of big plays on special teams against the Atlanta Falcons tomorrow.

Elam, 28, coming off a year in which he missed a career-high 10 field goals, converted 23 of 27 this season, including the 63-yard cannon shot at Mile High Stadium that tied Tom Dempsey's NFL record.

He hit 16 of 17 kicks from inside 40 yards, and was 7-for-10 beyond 40.

In Morten Andersen, the Falcons got similar numbers: 23 of 28 field goals, with a long kick of 53 yards.

Hebron, a native of Baltimore and a former star at Cardinal Gibbons, ranked fifth in the NFL in kick returns with a 26.4 average. He could have an opening: The Falcons ranked only 21st in kickoff coverage.

Where Denver also might hold a thin edge is in punting. The Broncos' Tom Rouen ranked second in the NFL with his 46.9 gross punting average, but only seventh in net average with 37.6.

Worse, he had two punts blocked -- one in the regular season and one in the AFC championship game.

Part of Rouen's problem was the snapping.

Long snapper Glenn Cadrez, the team's starting middle linebacker, was shaky on snaps in the AFC title game, and that is a vulnerability to be explored by the Falcons.

Atlanta's punter, Dan Stryzinski, was 30th in the league with a 40.0 average, but put 25 kicks inside the 20. His high, but relatively short, punts helped the Falcons rank second in punt coverage.

After returning three punts for touchdowns in 1997, Denver's Darrien Gordon did not take one back all the way this season. He had a long return of 44 yards, an average of 11.1, and ranked only sixth in the AFC.

The Broncos ranked 12th in punt coverage and 18th in kickoff coverage, which could pose a problem. Atlanta's versatile rookie Tim Dwight ranked third in the league with a 27-yard kickoff return average with one touchdown, a 93-yarder.

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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