Rookie running back Devontae Booker was viewed a bit like a secret weapon after his huge game against the Texans.
With his speed, vision and willingness to go headfirst into a linebacker when necessary, the former Utah Ute proved he can add to the Broncos’ offensive arsenal in a big way.
But while astute fans have been keyed on No. 23 since training camp, Booker had been relatively unknown outside Broncos Country.
Until Monday night.
And now that the team’s No. 1 running back is out for several weeks with a torn meniscus, Booker’s role just moved up a notch on the depth chart. A big notch.
Dennison: We certainly think (Booker can shoulder a big load) that's why we drafted him.— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) October 27, 2016
Ironically, the running back had earned the distinction today from Albert Breer as being one of his expected "breakout players" this coming weekend.
"He hits the hole and goes," Breer noted.
But now Booker’s "breakout" status is going to need to hit "consistently solid" as the promising rookie attempts to fulfill the potential noted when he was drafted in the fourth round.
MHR’s Ian St. Clair wrote immediately after the draft that the rookie would be "a great complement to C.J. Anderson and could make an immediate impact. He has the size and style to run between the tackles."
Pro Football Focus had pointed out that Booker was the fifth best among the RB draft class to get yards after contact - avoiding a tackle on the first hit 36.7 percent of the time.
And among MHR’s own, 81 percent rated Booker’s draft as an A or A+.
All observations couldn’t have proved more true last week when Booker "booked it" 83 yards and added his first NFL touchdown in the win over the Texans that featured – finally – a Broncos running attack.
Now the "young juice" that Gary Kubiak referred to in his No. 2 is going to have to carry the heavy load for the running back squad. But he seems ready for it as the rookie hasn't been stopped behind the line of scrimmage and only has three of 51 carries that have gone for no gain.
.@dbook23 finally finds what he's been looking for— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) October 25, 2016
" https://t.co/M76e2bNovU pic.twitter.com/fnXVh3u66q
Gary Kubiak had hinted the fourth-round draft pick would get a lot more touches against the Texans as it became obvious the rookie could spark the running game and get Anderson running better too.
Since fumbling his first regular season play against the Panthers, Booker has been showing off his speed as he hits the holes quickly and doesn’t mind carrying a few guys with him before going down. In his last two games Booker has averaged 5.86 yards per carry, rushing for 129 yards on 22 attempts.
The coach was definitely pleased with how Booker responded to his added role, and now that role is moving to top dog.
Book The Rook says he’s "absolutely" up for that.
"[Eric Studesville] coaches us to be ready for every opportunity, and during film study he makes sure we are ready for each and every situation that we may get on the field," Booker said Wednesday, adding that he’ll be ready for the No. 1 spot if he needs to be.
Booker liked his recently increased role partly because it helps him get better throughout the game. Not only is the defense getting worn down, the running back is gaining rhythm and momentum.
"I was definitely getting into a rhythm with the more and more carries that I got," Booker said of the Texans gams. "With more and more snaps , I started getting my rhythm and being more comfortable."
37 of @Broncos RB Devontae Booker's 56 yards have come after contact so far. 39 of C.J. Anderson's 82 have been after contact— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 25, 2016
As with most rookies in the NFL, it takes a few games to adjust to the speed of the game while trying to get the playbook down. Heading to the halfway point of the season, Booker feels like he’s getting there – and it’s helping him improve his overall game.
"It’s just really knowing the whole offense," Booker said, particularly about improving his pass-blocking.
And Anderson has a been a big help to his understudy.
"C.J. has helped out a lot," Booker said, adding that all the running backs have been great for his learning curve. "I thank them for helping me because they wanted to see me out there and play right away. I’m just going to continue to study my butt off."
The Chargers stonewalled the Broncos’ running game in the first matchup, keeping Booker and Anderson to a combined total of 84.
With Anderson out of the immediate picture at least, it’s going to be even more important for Booker to lead the running back crew with a big day as Kapri Bibbs is likely to take the No. 2 position.
Broncos OC Rick Dennison on Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs: "Each of our backs we consider durable enough to carry the load."— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) October 27, 2016
"It just picks up Kapri's work, basically," Kubiak said before reports of Anderson’s injury were completely known. "Obviously Book would start, and it's kind of up to Book - how much can he handle - but I think he's been growing. He played really well the other night."
The combination of better play from the offensive line, patience and creativity in the play-calling from the coaches, and keeping fullback Andy Janovich in the game for more snaps will be the "secret" recipe going forward.
And Broncos will need that because no doubt Booker is no longer a secret to anyone.
But he’s most definitely a weapon.
"It’s just the way I run the ball every time I get the ball," Booker said of his style. "If I have to do it the whole game, then it will be what it will be."