Since as far back as anyone can remember, the Denver Broncos have had one strength from season to season: running backs. Back in the 90s, then head coach Mike Shanahan made sure the Broncos would always prove to be able to run effectively so as not to repeat their one dimensional woes of losing three Super Bowls the previous decade. It seems as if that mantra is finally beginning to lose its ground.
The Broncos became known as a running back factory when, year after year through injury or otherwise, they were able to bring in someone that could do the job effectively. At one point, in the 2008 season, the Broncos needed the service of 11 different backs in order to get through the year, seemingly pulling a parking lot attendant onto the field to put in the backfield. In that year, Broncos backs combined for over 1,400 yards on the ground as a group. Not bad for a nondescript cast of characters.
Today, the Broncos and their fans must be longing for the days of Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Mike Bell, Olandis Gary, Clinton Portis, Tatum Bell and the others. In 2012, RB Willis McGahee was on a roll before getting injured in the 10th game against the San Diego Chargers. Knowshon Moreno, who was on the inactives list for most of the year played admirably in McGahee’s absence before getting injured himself in the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Rookie Ronnie Hillman played, well, as a rookie and had trouble in pass protection and proved not to be ready to take the lead. With McGahee turning 32 in October coming off major knee surgery, and Moreno with a penchant for getting hurt himself, the Broncos find themselves in a most unwelcome predicament. Their running corps is depleted.
Now the rumor mill is swirling with the Broncos hoping that Steven Jackson voids his contract with the St. Louis Rams, while also looking at Shonn Greene and possibly a Jonathan Dwyer type back that can carry the load. On the roster for now are Lance Ball, Mario Fannin, Jeremiah Johnson and Jacob Hester. These are not backs that you would love to have as anything but back-ups and some will be released this off-season.
So the course of action is set for Vice President of Player Personnel John Elway and Head Coach John Fox: find a starting running back. It would be nice to see Elway go back to the theory that Shanahan employed with finding good backs that can step up and produce as they were the starter all along. It is easier than it sounds, but the Broncos can not afford to go into the 2013 season without a top-tier back like Jackson.
Some will say that Greene would be able to handle the load, that he was a victim of the New York Jets system. I’m not too sure about that after watching a lot of his games, and seeing the slow turn down the field and the inability to push a line.
Whatever route the Broncos take, just hope that Elway remembers more about the three Super Bowl losses with backs such as Sammy Winder, Steven Sewell and Bobby Humphrey than the wins with Davis. That losing taste of his one dimensional offense should always come up when discussing drafting a back or hitting the free agent market for one or 2013 will not have a happy ending.