Speedy Bolden thriving after slow start to career

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio calls Omar Bolden the Broncos' Swiss Army knife.

The third-year defensive back from Arizona State adds a dose of versatility to a defense packed with Pro Bowlers and gives Del Rio the ability to sprinkle in some exotic formations.

''We play him everywhere. He knows the nickel, the corner, the safety, the joker, the dime. He can play a lot of different spots for us,'' Del Rio said. ''When you learn safety, you're forced to learn all those different positions and you have a great feel for how it all ties together. I see his confidence growing.''

Not just on defense, either. Bolden has emerged as a special teams standout.

He led the team with a dozen special teams tackles and has emerged as the primary kickoff returner heading into the playoffs. His bursts of 77 and 76 yards the last two weeks boosted his season average to nearly 30 yards per return.

''The way he's playing on special teams right now is outstanding,'' Del Rio said. ''The way he's preparing each week to play with great energy and being able to do different roles is very valuable for us.''

You'd think Bolden would be, well, emboldened by such high praise. No. He insists he's not even at full strength yet following knee surgery that scuttled his senior season.

When his teammates were patting him on the back and the crowd was going crazy after he returned the second-half kickoff to the Oakland 30-yard line last week, Bolden was ...

''Ticked,'' he said. ''I'm in front, that's supposed to be six.''

After weaving his way past the first wave of tacklers thanks to a block by rookie Cody Latimer, Bolden was sprinting up the Raiders sideline when Sebastian Janikowski got a hand on him. That allowed Chance Casey to catch up and knock him out of bounds.

Two plays later, C.J. Anderson scored.

''Don't get me wrong, I'm excited that I made a big play,'' Bolden said, ''but I'm just disappointed that it wasn't as big as I would have liked.''

Bolden figures to have an impact in the playoffs either on special teams or from scrimmage, especially if safeties T.J. Ward (neck) and David Bruton Jr. (head) are still limited.

''I can remember being in a team meeting about midseason and we're separating the DB room, safeties and corners, and I hear Omar, `Which room am I in this time?''' coach John Fox said. ''He's just a guy who's a good football player. ... And he's always been a really good fourth-down player, and the return thing, we were juggling until we found the right combination and he's slipped into that role very well, too.''

Fox said Bolden laid the foundation for Pro Bowl consideration as a special teams ace next season.

For such a fast guy, Bolden sure has been patient.

His rookie year he had a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the preseason. But six weeks later, the Broncos grabbed Trindon Holliday off waivers and Bolden began biding his time again.

He's missed just one game in his NFL career and has carved out niches in the secondary and on special teams.

And he's thrilled to be the team's kick returner now. He first fell in love with the game as a youngster zipping past other kids with the ball in his hands and a head of steam, never one to let fear of injury slow him down.

''I feel like I'm running too fast that guys don't want to tackle me,'' Bolden said. ''That's how I'd look at it. Because when I see somebody running fast, I'm like, `Oh, that's going to hurt.' I'm moving too fast; most guys don't want that kind of collision, you know?''

The Broncos took a chance on Bolden in 2012, drafting him in the third round even though he missed all of 2011.

''The film we saw of him when he was healthy, he was very good,'' Fox said. ''Coming off a knee injury and getting used to the NFL season took him a minute and now he's starting to flourish.''

Bolden figures he has one more step to make, though.

''Pre-surgery, I wouldn't have been caught,'' he said. ''It's getting there, though. It's about like 98, 97 percent. We're close.''

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