2008 Denver Broncos -- Breaking Down the Roster #7 - Running Back

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Can Young be "The Man"?

In an earlier breakdown focused on the Offensive Line I talked about the Broncos needing to get back to what they do best, to what they are -- a running football team.  While the line is obviously an important part of that, you had better have someone carrying the rock that can get the job done, consistently, game after game.  The Broncos had that when they were winning Super Bowls, and while you simply can't plug someone in to replace a player like Davis(if you could he would in no way be a Hall of Famer), the Broncos have swung and missed and at times relied too much on what I call T.D. Syndrome, thinking you can grab another diamond in the rough at running back simply becuase you did it  with Davis.

What do I mean?  Let's take a look at the past 9 seasons since the Broncos won their two Super Bowl titles and who led the team in rushing each year, as well as the team's record  --

1999 - Olandis Gary             -  1159 yds -  7 tds     -  6-10
2000 - Mike Anderson          -  1487 yds - 15 tds  - 11-5
2001 - Terrell Davis              -    701 yds  -   0 tds  -    8-8
2002 - Clinton Portis            -  1508 yds -  15 tds  -    9-7
2003 - Clinton Portis            -  1591 yds -  14 tds  - 10-6
2004 - Reuben Droughns  -   1240 yds -    6 tds   - 10-6
2005 - Mike Anderson         -   1014 yds -  12 tds - 13-3
2006 - Tatum Bell                -    1025 yds -   2 tds  -    9-7
2007 - Selvin Young            -      729 yds -   1 tds  -    7-9

A couple of things pop out immediately to me.  First, over the past 9 seasons, 7 different running backs have led the team in rushing.  In 5 of those years, the elading rusher had fewer than 10 TDs, and only once, when Clinton Portis was toting the rock, did the same player lead the team in rushing back to back.  It also struck me that, other than Portis and Mike Anderson, the running back getting the majority of the carries could not consistently get into the end zone.  That affects the offense, folks, and if your premier back can't punch it into the end zone you are probably going to struggle in the red zone.

Heading into 2008, the Broncos look to be committing to Selvin Young.  I am a big fan of Young, always have been.  That said, he still needs to prove he can be an every down back.  He still needs to prove that he can have a big run, a big quarter, a big half, a big game and come back and do it the next play, quarter, half, game and week.  Game after game, month after month.  The proof is in the pudding.   If the Broncos are going to snif the playoffs, Young, or whoever is the feature back, needs to be the guy to carry the load.  I think Young has the ability, he needs to prove it.  There are other candidates as well.  Let's look at them.

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SELVIN YOUNG (5-11, 215 / 2nd Year)

Can Selvin Young be "The Man"?  That is the big question surrounding the Running Back position.  The Broncos had the opportunity to draft a talented running back early in the draft and chose not to, instead allowing Young to come in and be the guy.  Yea, I know, Travis Henry was still on the roster, but do you really, really think Shanny had any kind of faith in Henry?  Me neither.  The questions that hover around Young have been there since his days at Texas - durability. 

The leading rusher for the Broncos the previous 8 seasons, before 2007, averaged 256 carries per season.  Young had 140 carries last year, and had 365 in college, total, over 5 seasons at Texas.  His season high as a Longhorn was 137 his Senior season.  If Young is going to be the man, and do what the 8 players did before him, he'll have to carry the ball over 100 times more than he has ever done. 

The 256 carries per year average out to 16 carries per game.  In 15 games last season, Young averaged 9.3 carries per game.  Young will have to nearly double his production per game.  I say this because I am a believer that the Broncos need to have a horse, pun intended, carrying the ball game in, game out.  It benefits the quarterback and the offensive line to know the style of the guy running behind them.  Even the Wide Receivers get used to how long they need to block down field.  Having a "variety" in the backfield disrupts the flow of the offense.

I think Young can be the man.  I just can't say it with certainty because I haven't seen it from Young at any level.  No of us have.  He'll get the first shot this year, and the Broncos success is largely dependent on Selvin Young doing things he never has before.

2007 Season Notes:  Played in 15 games (8 starts), registering 140 carries for 729 yards (5.2 avg.) and a touchdown, including a 50-yard run while making 35 catches for 231 yards (6.6 avg.). His eight starts are the most by a Broncos rookie since Clinton Portis opened 12 games in 2002. Became just the sixth undrafted rookie – and second Bronco (Mike Bell, 2006) – since the inception of the common draft (1967) to amass 500 rushing yards. His rookie performance ranks third among undrafted rookies as he passed Mike Bell (677) and Clark Gaines (724, NYJ, 1976) in the season finale. Ranks third among league rookies in rushing (729 yds.) and stands fourth among all NFL players in yards per rush (5.2). Placed sixth among the team’s all-time single-season rushing performances by a rookie. Amassed 1,016 all-purpose yards (729 rushing, 231 receiving, 56 kick returns). Made his pro debut and registered two carries for seven yards at Buf. (9/9). In the home opener vs. Oak. (9/16), he carried three times for 43 yards (14.3 avg.), including a 40-yard run, while making a 1-yard catch. In the second quarter against the Raiders, he burst through the line on third-and-9 for 40 yards to help set up Sapp’s 4-yard touchdown run. He contributed two carries for seven yards and a pair of catches for 37 yards vs. Jac. (9/23). Posted career highs in carries (8) and yards (81) at Ind. (9/30). Recorded three carries for 47 yards, including a 32-yard run on third-and-4, on a drive that culminated in Marshall’s 7-yard touchdown grab against the Colts. He also made two catches for 19 yards. Registered a career-high four catches for 20 yards while rushing once for no gain vs. S.D. (10/7). Recorded a 16-yard reception along with two carries for one yard on Sunday Night Football vs. Pit. (10/21). His 16-yard reception on third-and-14 sustained a drive that culminated in Scheffler’s 1-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Made his first pro start on Monday Night Football vs. G.B. (10/29) and on 18 attempts he gained 71 yards (3.9 avg.) while making a team-leading six catches for 49 yards, including a 24-yarder. Gained 12 yards on six carries and posted two catches for 15 yards at Det. (11/4). Recorded his first 100-yard game as a pro in a start at K.C. (11/11) as he gained 109 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Added three catches for 20 yards against the Chiefs. His 20-yard touchdown in the third quarter opened a 13-8 lead. As the starting running back, gained 54 yards on 14 carries (3.9 avg.) while making two catches for nine yards on Monday Night Football vs. Ten. (11/19). Declared inactive at Chi. (11/25) due to a knee injury. Carried seven times for 28 yards and made two catches for 17 yards before an arm injury forced him to leave the game at Oak. (12/2). Posted the second 100-yard game of his career when he totaled a career-high 156 yards on 17 carries (9.2 avg., including a 50-yard run, to help the team amass 453 total net yards of offense vs. K.C. (12/9). His total of 156 yards on 17 carries marks the second-most rushing yards by a Bronco with under 20 carries in a game (Clinton Portis, 14 for 165 yards, vs. Chicago, 11/23/03). His 143 yards in the first half marked the second time the team had a 100-yard rusher in a half (Henry, 106 (1st half), at Indianapolis, 9/30/07) and is the seventh-highest single-half performance in team annals. His 50-yard run on the team’s opening possession was his career long and was the team’s second-longest rush of the season (Hall, 68 yd-run, vs. Tennessee, 11/19/07). His 50-yard run helped set up the Stokley’s 21-yard touchdown catch capping its opening possession. With the team using the two-minute offense, he opened the drive with a 30-yard run to help move the team into position for Elam’s 37-yard field goal to close the first half. Added 34 yards on eight carries, including a 20-yard run in his return to his hometown on Thursday Night Football at Hou. (12/13). Carried 10 times for 39 yards while making two catches for eight yards on Monday Night Football at S.D. (12/24). Started the season finale vs. Min. (12/30) and posted a career-high 22 carries for 87 yards (4.0 avg.), including a 20-yard run, while making three catches for 12 yards. On the team’s first touchdown drive, carried four times for 36 yards (9.0 avg.), including a 20-yard run.


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MICHAEL PITTMAN (6-0, 225 / 11th Year)

The Broncos brought Michael Pittman in to add some veteran leadership to a running back corps and ballclub that really doesn't have alot of it.  When it was becoming apparent to the Broncos that Travis Henry was going to become a bust they signed Pittman, and while he shouldn't be considered the feature back, he does provide the intangibles most successful teams need and possess.  Pittman has never rushed for over 1000 yards in a season, or caught 100 passes, but each season Pittman totals 700-1500 yards in combined offense.  Raiders fans remember Pittman's performace in Super Bowl XXXVII and he provides the Broncos the type of toughness the team needs.

The Broncos aren't completely convinced that Selvin Young will be able to get it done in the Red Zone or in short yardage situations.  Wisely the team went out and grabbed a tough, hard-nosed back that will do what ever it takes to get an inch, a foot, a yard or 5, whatever is needed to move the chains.  I like the pickup and this Pittman will be a big help to both Young and rookie Ryan Torain, who is the same type of runner Pittman was early in his career.

If the Broncos can use Pittman the way he should be used at this stage, keep him fresh, and get him into some space in the passing game, Pittman can be an asset.  Solid move by the Broncos.

2007 Season Notes:  Pittman saw action in 10 games (3 starts) with Tampa Bay, totaling 68 rushes for 286 yards (4.2 avg.) along with 26 receptions for 191 yards (7.3 avg.)... Hauled in a team-high five catches for 62 yards (12.4 avg.) in an NFC Wild Card Playoff Game vs. NYG (1/6)... Missed Games 6-9, 11 and 13 due to an ankle injury, marking his first missed games due to an injury in eight seasons... Started at fullback in the season opener at Sea. (9/9)... Ran for a season-high 90 yards on 15 carries (6.0 avg.) at Car. (9/30)... Caught seven passes for 54 yards at S.F. (12/23) to move into sixth place in Buccaneers history in career receptions with 283 (finished his Tampa Bay career sixth in team annals and third among running backs with 284 catches).


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CECIL SAPP (5-11, 236 / 6th Year)

Cecil Sapp has done just about everything during his tim with the Broncos.  Playing mostly FB and on special teams, Sapp has been on and off the roster, active and inactive since joining the Broncos as an undrafted FA in 2003.  To me, Sapp is the expendable piece of the running back corps, and if Peyton Hillis and Ryan Torain stay healthy and play as well as they have looked thus far, Sapp will most likely be a cap casuality.  Playing on a 1 year deal doesn't help Sapp either. 

Every team in the NFL has guys like Sapp on their team and they provide value as the first guy called when depth at a position becomes a problem.  After 5 seasons as a Bronco, the time has come to upgrade and the Broncos think they have done it.

2007 Season Notes:  Sapp played all 16 games (8 starts) for Denver, rushing 18 times for 59 yards (3.3 avg.) with two scores and catching 14 passes for 51 yards (3.6 avg.) with one touchdown... Three touchdowns were the first of his career and ranked fifth on the team... Was the only Bronco to score on both a rush and a reception... Helped block for an offense that ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per rush (4.6 avg.)... Added six special-teams tackles (4 kickoff, 2 punt) and two kickoff returns for 30 yards (15.0 avg.)... Scored his first career touchdown on a 4-yard run vs. Oak. (9/16) and had a career-long 16-yard reception among two grabs for a personal-best 18 yards... Scored the first receiving touchdown of his career with a 1-yard catch from Jay Cutler on Sunday Night Football vs. Pit. (10/21)... Registered career highs in rushes (7) and rushing yards (28) while posting one rushing touchdown at Chi. (11/25)... Recorded both of his kickoff returns (20 yds.) for the year along with a career-high three catches (4 yds.) at Oak. (12/2).



ANDRE HALL (5-10, 212 / 2nd Year)


It seems we have been waiting forever for Andre Hall to make an impact on the field.  Bad timing and injuries always seem to derail Hall and this could be his last shot at becoming a contributor as a Bronco.  What we have seen from Hall has been promising, both as a return guy and a running back.  In limited action, Hall did average 5 yards a carry and 25 yards a kick return.  Coming in to 2008, Hall has alot of competition for both those jobs.  An injury, or lackluster play could mean the end of Hall's days in Dove Valley.

A lot of fans have been high on Hall.  The time has come for Hall to put up or he could find himself out of a job.

2007 Season Notes:  Hall played 10 games (1 start) for Denver, totaling 216 yards on 44 carries (4.9 avg.) with two touchdowns and two receptions for 69 yards... Recorded a longest rush of 62 yards (touchdown) and a longest reception of 65 yards... Served as the Broncos’ primary kickoff returner with 19 returns for 475 yards (25.0 avg.)... 25.0-yard kickoff return average was the highest by a Bronco for a season among those with at least 19 returns since 2002 (Reuben Droughns, 25.8-yard average on 28 returns)... Ranked third on the Broncos with 760 combined yards (216 rush, 69 rec. and 475 ret.)... Added five tackles on special teams (2 on kickoff coverage and 3 on punt coverage)... Made his pro debut on special teams at Ind. (9/30)... Saw his first career action at running back on Monday Night Football vs. G.B. (10/29), carrying three times for 10 yards... Led the team with 89 rushing yards on seven carries (12.7 avg.), including a 62-yard touchdown that was his first career score, on Monday Night Football vs. Ten. (11/19)... Registered his first NFL start at Chi. (11/25), gaining 98 yards on 26 carries (3.8 avg.) with one touchdown while catching two passes for 69 yards... Suffered an ankle injury early in the game against the Bears but still totaled 167 yards from scrimmage and 181 combined yards (includes a 14-yard kickoff return) for the club’s second-highest such total on the year... Had a 65-yard catch-and-run reception with 48 seconds left in the first half against the Bears, setting up a field goal, and was above the 100-yard rushing mark (107) in the fourth quarter before negative rushes dropped his total... Inactive at Oak. (12/2) due to the ankle injury.



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PEYTON HILLIS (6-1, 250 / Rookie)
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Two rookies will have 100% of my attention when I visit Training Camp later this week and Peyton Hillis is one of them.  Just take a look at the numbers Hillis was able to put up, and this in on a team that included Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at running back.  Hillis still available late in the 7th round was an absolute STEAL!

Hillis is another player the Broncos added to the roster that plays with a bit of a mean streak.  While a knock on Hillis is his ability to block inside, he won't have to do much of that in the Broncos zone-blocking scheme.  He's a perfect fit in the West Coast scheme the Broncos employ, and his ability to run and catch the football should add a dimension to the offense the team hasn't had since Howard Griffith was getting it done in the late 90's.  There is some injury concern in Hillis' past, which likely affected his draft stock, but he appears to healthy and 100% ready to go.

Hillis will have to beat out Cecil Sapp and/or Michael Pittman for the starting FB job, and I think he'll do it.  Even if he doesn't, Hillis will be a solid addition to the coverage teams and will provide alot more value than the average, every day 7th Round pick.  I have been critical of many Broncos' draft picks over the last decade or so, this one could make up for at least some of them.  I am a big fan of Hillis and look forward to watching him on Sundays.

2007 College Notes:  Hillis played 13 games (9 starts) as a senior at Arkansas, rushing 62 times for 347 yards (5.6 avg.) with two touchdowns and leading the Razorbacks in both receptions (49) and receiving yards (537) while adding five receiving scores... 49 catches and 537 receiving yards both marked school single-season records for running backs... Finished with 886 all-purpose yards and blocked for Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden, who ranked fourth in the nation in rushing (140.8 ypg. / 1,830 yds.)... Also blocked for another 1,000-yard rusher in Felix Jones (1,162 yds.) and helped Arkansas rank fourth in the nation in rushing (286.5 ypg.)... Received the 2007 Paul Eells Award for the Arkansas player who showed outstanding character through adversity.


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RYAN TORAIN (6-1, 225 / Rookie)

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The Broncos hope they got another steal in Torain, who after 2 years as a JUCO running back came into the PAC-10 and took the conference by storm.  Torain is the classic 1-cut runner the Broncos prefer and word out of Camp is that Torain has looked great.

Coming off a serious foot injury that limited Torain to only 6 games in 2007, I would prefer to see the Broncos tread lightly with Torain to avoid any type of setback.  If healthy, Torain could see quite a bit of action for the Broncos with the running back situation in Denver fluid at best.  Torain is a name to keep in mind this season and if healthy could make a huge impact.  Selvin Young needs to keep up the pace, cuz the Torain Train is coming!

2007 College Notes:  Torain averaged 92.2 rushing yards per game as a senior for Arizona State, totaling 553 rushing yards on 110 carries (5.0 avg.) with five touchdowns in six games (6 starts) before missing the final seven contests due to a fractured toe... Also caught seven passes for 100 yards (14.3 avg.) with two touchdowns to total 653 all-purpose yards... Posted at least 90 rushing yards in five of his six games, including three 100-yard efforts... Ran for a season-high 123 yards and had three rushing scores in the season opener vs. San Jose State (9/1).


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ANTHONY ALRIDGE (5-9, 185 / Rookie)
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Perhaps the most intriguing player in Training Camp, Alridge had a huge 2007 season.  Is he a 1-hit wonder or does the udner-sized, ultra fast running back have what it takes to make it in the NFL?  That is the question Alridge and the Broncos are trying to answer at training camp.  To me, you can never have enough pure speed on the football field. 

Alridge certainly is rough around the edges, and will likely be practice squad material in 2008.  Look into the future, howevere, and Alridge could be an asset in the return game later this season or in 2009.  Think about it this way.  Eddie Royal will be the return guy when the season opens.  He's also looking damn good at Wide Receiver.  Should Royal become a intrical part of teh passing game, the Broncos have to protect him, don't they?  Enter Alrdige.  I'm not saying it will happen, but Alridge has been hearing his whole career he wasn't going to do it.  Who am I to keep a man down?

College Notes:  Twice received second-team All-Conference USA honors (2006-07) at Houston and was a Doak Walker Award (nation’s best running back) semifinalist in 2007.... Finished his career at Houston ranked sixth in school history with 2,595 rushing yards on 363 carries for a 7.1-yard rushing average in 39 career games... Also caught 74 career passes for 997 yards (13.5 avg.) with nine touchdowns and returned 38 kickoffs for 846 yards (22.3 avg.)... Totaled the fourth-most career all-purpose yards (4,438) in Houston history, averaging a school-record 9.4 yards per play... Posted the second-highest single-season rushing total in Houston annals (1,597 yds., 6.2 avg., 14 TDs) along with 42 receptions (428 yds., 5 TDs) as a senior... Averaged 10.1 yards per rush (95-959) as a junior, leading the nation in that category and posting the highest single-season average (min. 75 att.) in the NCAA since 1945 (Army's Glenn Davis, 11.5 avg., 82-944)...

 

Running back has always been an important part of the Shanahan/Broncos offense.  While the National media likes to say the Broncos can plug anyone in the backfield and get 1000 yards, the truth is 1000 yards isn't good enough.  With this offense, and this O-line, the Broncos need to 1500 yards.  The group is young, with 3 rookies and 2-2nd year players among the 7 but it is also talented.  Selvin Young has talked the talk all winter.  Now in camp, it's time for him to walk the walk.  If he does, the Broncos will be successfull.  If not?  Well.....

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