With the punt return game for the Denver Broncos coming under such close scrutiny this preseason, wide receiver River Cracraft — among his other offensive duties — has become one of the go-to sure-handed special teamers for the squad.
Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan caught up with the punt — and pass — catcher this week to ask him about what makes life as a returner so difficult, along with how he got his name and more:
Hart: For someone like me, who’s never caught a punt in his life, what makes it so difficult?
Cracraft: There are a lot of good punters out there. We’ve got a good one here in Colby (Wadman). A lot of misdirection. You’re covering the entire field. You have to know average hang times, on average how far they’re kicking it. You’ve got to be able to pick your alignment. You’ve got to know tendencies. You have to see post-snap rotations. And that’s all before the ball’s even in the air, you know? And on top of that, it’s just tracking.
The simple answer is the more reps you get, the better you are at it. But, there are a lot of things that play a factor in catching punts that not a lot of people are aware of.
Hart: It’s almost like second-nature once you get all those reps.
Cracraft: In my experience from this year to last year, just me being in the Seattle game, it was completely different. I was so much more relaxed. I mean, I want to say that I was like that by the end of the year last year, but it was totally different going out there this year. I felt like I belong back there.
Hart: Who do you lean on outside the facility to hone your craft?
Cracraft: A lot of people. I have a lot of contacts who have helped me out a lot. It depends on what I’m searching for. If it has something to do with strength or something, I’ll reach out to somebody. If it has something to do with a particular route, typically my coach is the guy I go to. But, if not, then I have people around the league that I go to. Stokley has definitely helped me. It’s not like I can call him every day, but I’m sure he would be willing to help me if I did. But, yeah, there’s definitely people outside the Broncos facility that have helped me along the way.
Hart: Growing up, who were the people who supported you on your journey to the NFL?
Cracraft: I have a lot of people who supported me and have stood by my side. It’s hard to say not my family because they’ve been with me through … I’ve had injuries. I’ve had ups and downs, highs and lows. And they’ve stuck by me. I mean, my dad is somebody I talk to every day. I’m very close with my dad. And he never played professional sports. He wanted to, but, you know, things happen. But he’s kind of the guy. He and my brother are some people that I go to for when things get tough.
Hart: Are there any examples of your family going that extra mile to help you growing up?
Cracraft: I was doing the three sports when I was a kid. I played hockey, soccer and baseball. I played football, but that was a different season. But those three, they kind of overlap in the winter. Those were some fun times.
My parents … I mean, when I was in high school I was notorious for leaving something, whether it was my socks or my gloves. I was always missing one thing. And pretty much every Friday or Thursday or whatever it was, they’d have to leave work, drive to pick it up and bring it to me. I learned my lesson when I got to college and I didn’t have them to do that stuff.
Hart: Have you ever played as yourself in “Madden?”
Cracraft: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s the first thing I did.
Hart: What is that experience like? That doesn’t happen for most people.
Cracraft: No, it doesn’t. This one, this year, the newest “Madden,” it was a very cool feeling. The announcer said my name in the game. And, you know, it’s not an easy name, so they had to do it. It was like a heart-stopping moment for me. Because there are always a few things … You just want to hear some things, like just little small achievements in your mind. Like another one, for example — take this how you will — but Cris Collinsworth. The day he says my name will be a very exciting moment for me just because of the reputation. And if he’s saying my name, that means I’m doing something right.
Hart: What’s the story with your name? It’s a very unique name.
Cracraft: It’s actually, technically, a nickname. My name is Tanner Cracraft, but I’ve been River since I was 6 months old. It was just never legally changed. But, it was after River Phoenix. If you ask my mom, she’ll give you a different story. You ask my dad, he’ll say River Phoenix.
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