Denver Broncos training camp 2012 is well underway, and the focus for over almost 4,000 people at every practice open to the public for the most part has been one Peyton W. Manning. As I highlighted in my previous post, there are a lot of other interesting battles happening at Broncos training camp, and one such battle is 2009 first round pick Knowshon Moreno vs. himself.
Moreno had huge expectations coming into Denver nearly four years ago now, a 21 year old phenom who left Georgia after just his redshirt sophomore season. The playmaker looked coming out of college like he could be one of the best three-down backs in the game, with his ability to run inside, outside, and catch the ball out of the backfield. For then head coach Josh McDaniels' offensive scheme, Moreno was the perfect fit.
But when Moreno showed up late to his first training camp in 2009 with contractual negotiations taking longer than they should have, the injury bug latched on and hasn't really given him room to breathe ever since. Moreno was injured in his first pre-season game with the Broncos, a game I remember very clearly. Despite getting injured right away and battling various setbacks at the start of his career, Moreno was the only player drafted or signed out of college in 2009 who had more than 1,000 all-purpose yards that year.
Entering his fourth season in the NFL, coming off of a 2011 campaign where he only played in seven games and had a mere 37 carries, Moreno is battling the bust status--but is it warranted?
In his first two seasons in the NFL (2009-10), Moreno finished with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and while he didn't look quite like a featured back, he made the most out of a 2009-10 offensive line that was arguably one of the worst I have seen at run blocking in quite some time, and maybe it's the eternal optimist in me, but over 1,000 yards from scrimmage indicates--especially since he was injured a lot of the time--that Moreno is doing something right.
As fate would have it, Moreno was playing probably the best game of his NFL career against the Chiefs in week 10 with four carries for 52 yards when he tore up his knee after a nice run.
Now, after months of what I assume to be dreadful rehabilitation and hard work, Moreno is back on the field for the Broncos at 2012 training camp with two years and a team option left on his contract, presumably fighting for his roster life. The Broncos are not overly deep at running back with returning Pro Bowler Willis McGahee, Lance Ball, and Jeremiah Johnson along with rookie Ronnie Hillman and "Blake Griffin" rookie Mario Fannin, among some others. Really, I think the only two backs who have solidified roster spots at this point are McGahee and Hillman, who signed his rookie deal at the dawn of camp.
If you think Knowshon is going to be getting cut, I say think again. Moreno's 2012 base salary is around $855,000, and he is slated to make $1.7 million in 2013. In terms of pure dollars and cents, Moreno is a huge steal. Getting a 25 year-old back, entering the prime of his career, on a two-year contract worth under $3 million is actually a huge steal.
The problem is, Moreno has not lived up to lofty first-round status. The argument of whether or not he is a bust will remain until he is off the team or he cracks 1,000 yards and becomes an indispensable asset to the team. Moreno barely saw the field a year ago, but he has been pretty valuable for the Broncos over the last three years, even if the team hasn't been all that great. He has 18 touchdowns since he entered the league, and even though he has only played in 20 games the last two seasons, I think his best days are on the horizon.
John Elway and the Broncos would be foolish to cut Moreno, and while nothing is impossible, I think his roster spot for the 2012 season is all but assured. What he does with that roster spot is up to him. As training camp presses on, ESPN is reporting that Moreno--who is slowly re-acclimating himself to football activities--is working with the Broncos' second unit behind McGahee.
Obviously, nothing is given in the NFL, and prior to last season, Moreno had been the Broncos' full-time starting tailback. Questions surround the former Georgia star, especially right now whether there will be enough balls to go around. John Fox's teams in Carolina didn't seem to have a problem getting carries or looks out of the backfield, and the Broncos could actually get creative and use Moreno as a slot receiver or use some dual back sets in the red zone, designing some pass plays to go his way.
Whatever the case, I don't think Knowshon Moreno is a bust...yet. He has a lot to prove, especially after an injury-plagued 2011 season and the worst numbers of his career, but entering the prime of his career and hopefully healthier than ever, maybe Moreno can finally be the back the Broncos drafted him to be, just four years later.