The zone blocking system will make its comeback to the Mile High city in 2015 and with it poses the opportunity for great success for the Broncos' rushing attack.
Zone blocking is a rather simple concept. In fact, it is self-explanatory. The scheme requires cohesiveness, sound technique and movement skills in order to be successful.
C.J. Anderson has faith in Kubiak offense
Last season's top running back for the Broncos is excited to implement a zone blocking scheme that favors the running attack.
It doesn't mean an offensive lineman plows right ahead into the nearest opposing lineman. What it does mean is that linemen and tight ends are responsible for zones on the field and often play in space aside one another. It can produce more double teams, subsequently moving forward to the next level to shovel off defenders downfield. Constant movement laterally and upfield is a necessity, and if executed properly, the success stories are bountiful.
Broncos fans are likely well aware of the storied history the blocking scheme has brought to the franchise in terms of run production. Former head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive line guru Alex Gibbs brought the zone blocking scheme to Denver after Shanahan's short stint with the Raiders. Gary Kubiak came along with him and what happened was nothing short of legendary.
Everyone remembers Terrell Davis and what he accomplished in his injury-shortened career in Denver. Dare I say it would be Broncos fandom blasphemy not to remember his greatness and efforts that helped propel the franchise to back-to-back Super Bowl wins? When Davis' career abruptly ended, many were worried who would take the helm and carry the load for the Broncos in the future.
But a fellow University of Georgia alum, Olandis Gary, took the NFL by storm in 1999 and rushed for 1,159 yards in just 12 games. Unfortunately for Gary, he too suffered a severe knee injury, and his playing career was never the same. His injury prompted the Broncos to turn to beloved Marine-turned-Bronco Mike Anderson, who churned out 1,487 yards and outplayed higher drafted selections Jamal Lewis and Ron Dayne. This earned Anderson AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2001.
After Anderson came a man named Clinton Portis, whose unbelievable seasons with the Broncos gave fans flashbacks to the unique production of Davis. Had Portis not been traded to the Redskins for Champ Bailey and a second-round selection (which became his replacement Tatum Bell), there is no doubt Portis would have re-written the rushing record books in Denver, with the outside possibility of becoming one of the leading rushers in the history of the NFL.
Lest we forget Mike Bell, Selvin Young, Reuben Droughns and Quinten Griffin who all had their respective days in the sun when running within this system. It didn't seem to matter who it was or where they came from, any back that ran in such a system was able to produce on a consistent basis.
During Kubiak's reign over Houston, the path to success didn't change. The Texans regularly finished in the Top 8 in league-wide rushing standings and such system helped make the name for Arian Foster, who was an afterthought during his NFL Draft process.
Even Ravens' running back Justin Forsett, who had never had a significant impact in his NFL career, had a highlight year, rushing for more than 1,200 yards and averaging more than five yards per carry last year under Kubiak's tutelage.
Skills matter when it comes to being able to succeed in the NFL, but the aforementioned is proof positive that the zone blocking system works and has produced consistently year in and year out.
This begs the question, "Why should we expect anything different in 2015?"
Obvious concerns on the offensive line exist.Several starting positions are up for grabs, and the team has a handful of young players who will likely end up starting but have little or no professional experience. Be that as it may, there should be some faith within the fan base given the historical trends of success Kubiak and others who have run the system have had with linemen and backs alike.
Whether it is C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball or Ronnie Hillman, each should be able to carry on the tradition of success that the system has helped bestow upon backs who have run in it.
"I have known about his system for a while, and what he accomplished," Anderson said back in January. "One cut downhill and go get it. It fits me and the offense well. It's always been successful. He knows the team we have and what we can do. I can't wait to get started working with him."
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline in all of this is Ball, a 2013 second-round selection who has failed to live up to his projections. Ball's sense of familiarity with zone blocking concepts should be quite high given the Wisconsin Badgers system that featured it quite heavily.
Though Ball has been a shell at the NFL level of what he demonstrated in college, if he trusts himself and the system accordingly, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him put up great numbers and give the Broncos one of the most feared one-two punches at running back league-wide. He certainly has that potential, and if he can't get it here, I am not certain he will be able to get it anywhere.
There is no better opportunity to take the bull by the horns than now for the team's young cast of runners. If last year's early playoff exit is any indicator, the Broncos can no longer rely on the arm of Peyton Manning if they have aspirations of hoisting a Lombardi.
Instead, the path to any Super Bowl dream for the Broncos will depend on the legs of their runners and a little help from the scheme and good blocking on the offensive line.