Denver, CO. What a difference a year can make. At exactly this time last summer, the Denver Broncos starting quarterback was Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow was his ever popular backup, Peyton Manning was still penciled in to start in week 1 as a Colt, and the NFL was wrapping up a deal to end the lockout. Fast forward to today….Orton is now a backup in Dallas, Tebow is in the Big Apple ready to make life miserable for Mark Sanchez, Manning missed all of 2011 and is now a Bronco, and the NFL is still America’s sports juggernaut and as successful as ever. Did I mention Peyton Manning is no longer a Colt? Didn’t know if you heard, but he now resides in the AFC West instead of the AFC South, and is one day away from beginning training camp with his new team. This NFL is one crazy world. Denver, and Manning, will be under the microscope in a relentless fashion beginning on Thursday. Everyone, including critics, casual fans, men, women, and newborn babies will want to see how Peyton is throwing the ball. Is he all the way back from his neck surgeries last year, and is he in good enough shape to lead these Denver Broncos into the post-season? Although he did have tons of success in Indianapolis, he did need help along the way. That help came from his running game, with guys like Edgerrin James, Dominic Rhodes, and Joseph Addai keeping defenses honest. Here in Denver, the obvious plan is to throw more and utilize Peyton’s right arm to terrorize opposing defenses whenever possible. But the Broncos cannot throw on every down, and will need a consistent running game if they want to be an AFC power. That running game in 2012 will be counted on to be effective when called upon, and will be led once again by 30 year old Willis McGahee.
30 years old. Most would say in the grand scheme of things, that would still be a very young man. Not in the NFL, however, and especially being a running back in the NFL. The age of 30 is a death sentence for most NFL running backs, as that age has meant the end of the line for countless backs throughout the years. Depending on what study you look at, the average career of an NFL running back is anywhere from 2.5 – 3.0 years. These are some numbers that are staring Willis McGahee straight in the eye. McGahee is now entering his 9th season, and is being relied upon to be the bell cow in the Broncos ground attack. To be fair, he did have an outstanding 2011 season, one in which he ran for 1,199 yards and a 4.8 average per carry. One thing to consider though, is that those yards were part of that crazy, triple option offense, where most defenses weren’t quite sure how to deal with it. With Peyton now calling the signals, this offense will be much different, back to a typical pro style. Can McGahee fight off the age issue, stay healthy, and play in at least 15 games like he has for each of the past three seasons? The Broncos are obviously hoping so, as someone in the backfield will need to give #18 some relief at times. That help should also come from rookie Ronnie Hillman, who will give the running game a spark and some serious breakaway capability. What to expect from Knowshon Moreno? Who knows. After tearing his ACL last fall, he probably won’t be ready for live action in September. There have even been rumors about him being released sometime during training camp. Anyway you look at it, depending on Moreno to help the running game in 2012 would be naive. Lance Ball is also in the mix, but if he plays more than a few snaps a game, then something in the Broncos backfield went terribly wrong. The bottom line is, for Denver to achieve their goals of playing well into January, Willis McGahee will need to be a consistent running threat in which Peyton can lean on.
The Denver Broncos may win some games this year where “The Sheriff”, #18, goes for 350 yards and 3 TD’s. He did it in Indy, and he will probably do it here. But there will be those games when either the defense completely takes away the pass, or poor weather will not allow for an aerial assault. These will be games where Denver’s running game will be the key. Can a 30 year old, “over the hill”, eight year NFL veteran running back be the backbone of the Broncos ground attack? Starting tomorrow, we will all soon find out.
Denver Sports by J Simp
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