Thursday, June 19, 2008

'08 Bronco Running Backs

Bronco fans have long known that their team will run the ball and do that well. So, with seven players listed at RB, who shall we see on the roster? The release of Travis Henry shook the Richter Scale of the Bronco World and sent a message that the example of Selvin Young was to be the preferred model. Thus far, Peyton Hillis is the only FB listed (see previous post "FBs/TEs and auxiliary blockers"). Does that mean Denver will only carry one player repped at that spot, or will one of the larger RBs make the roster as a FB rather than as a RB?

For the second year in a row, an undrafted college free agent running back emerged as a go-to guy at the RB spot. Actually, two of them made their presence felt as Selvin Young joined Andre Hall, from the '06 practice squad. Add Mike Bell and the Broncos have shown they know how to find promising young free agent running backs. Young isn't satisfied with his durability or stats from '07 and seems to be on a mission to break through as a top NFL player. Andre Hall also had some nagging injuries that slowed him in '07, but his performance at Chicago was eye-opening in what should have been a key element of a victory had it not been for some disastrous kicking blunders.

Mike Bell has been on an emotional roller coaster: starter at beginning of '06; 2nd string at end of '06; Tatum Bell traded; Travis Henry signed; moved to FB; few carries/one fumble in '07; plagued by injuries in '07; Travis Henry released ... Some fans seem to think he should have been released by now. It's crazy to me how quickly some fans want to discard players after a down time. What is it? He lost you some money in fantasy football? Your Madden cybercomponent isn't up to par so let's replace it? I'll bet Bobby Turner wants all these guys to do well and make the roster decisions most difficult. Mike, Mike ... it's in your head, Bro. Come back, baby, you can do it.

Ryan Torain was one of the top college RBs entering the '07 season. He was injured and then a slew (understatement) of great Junior RBs came out for the '08 draft. He was almost forgotten. His injury is a question mark but his between the tackles running ability isn't. Training camp and preseason will test the durability of the new Lisfranc repair he had. If it doesn't hold up, IR/PUP awaits. If he finds himself on the roster, he will play ST and eventually get a shot.

Michael Pittman was signed just prior to Travis Henry's release. It's interesting how Shanahan has positioned veterans at each position except PK/P. RBs have a very short shelf life in the NFL and Pittman's expiration date is ...? He is one whose size, blocking and receiving ability may keep him on the roster in the capacity of FB/RB/ST.

Cecil Sapp is another with characteristics similar to Pittman; i.e., FB/RB/ST. The former CSU Ram has been a genuine team player for the Broncos. My guess is that he's not ready to quit yet and still has much to offer. In the event that he is released and not signed by another NFL team, don't be surprised to see him signed and released several times during the season by the Broncos a la Chad Mustard in '07.

Anthony Aldridge is the latest college free agent running back. He is small, but with great speed. My guess is he will be given a chance to return punts and kicks in preseason with that being his chance of making the roster. Carrying the ball between the tackles on a regular basis seems out of the question for him. Some have suggested he will really practice with the WRs (a la Vance Johnson) although he is still listed as a RB. Speaking of WRs, Samie Parker and Aldridge are in the process of deciding exactly who has the fastest set of wheels in town. Do you return kicks, Samie? It seems Shanahan is determined to fix KR/PR with speedy returners: Eddie Royal, Jack Williams and Anthony Aldridge. Having several would seem a major improvement.

How many RBs will the Broncos keep on the roster? Three? Four? Five? That's not counting FBs. How many of those? One? Two? Hillis alone or Hillis with one of the RBs, or no Hillis or FBs at all? As for the tandem possibility, I would classify them in the following similar pairs: Young and Hall as the change of pace guys; Bell and Torain as the between the tackles RBs; Pittman and Sapp as the FB/RBs; with Aldridge in a class of his own (kick return/specials). This is guaranteed to be the hottest competition during camp and preseason. I have no idea who will make it, who will be released and who will be on IR. I do know one thing: they will all be playing ST like demons because that will be the deciding factor of whom they keep.

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