Despite having a storied history, the Denver running game took a back seat to the third-ranked passing offense. Of course, losing 70 percent of the running backs didn't help either.
Because of all the injuries, the Broncos currently have 10 running backs on the roster, seven of which are currently on IR. The new head coach will have a lot of variety to work with, as that group includes power backs, speed backs, veterans and rookies alike.
The questions the coach will be facing are who to keep, who to cut, and how to utilize the ones that stay.
It has become a known fact in the NFL that, if executed correctly, a multiple-back system can be highly effective. Some of the most successful running teams do it with two or more tailbacks sharing the load.
Clearly, the Giants are one. Others include Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams of Carolina, LenDale White/Chris Johnson of Tennessee, Willis McGahee/Le'Ron McClain of Baltimore, and Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams of Miami. In 2009, the Denver Broncos could be added to that list.
We'll start with the Giants though. The original "Earth, Wind, and Fire" consists of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw. This trio helped bring a Super Bowl title to New York and have proven themselves again this season, ranking first in the league in total rushing yards (2,518), rushing yards per game (157.4), and yards per carry (5.0).
Jacobs was the bruiser of the group, a big, downhill runner who led the team with 15 touchdowns. Both Jacbos and Ward eclipsed the 1,000 yard plateau in '08. Speedy Bradshaw only had 67 carries, but managed to get 355 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Both Jacobs and Ward will be free agents following the playoffs.
The Broncos, on the other hand, finished 12th in the NFL in total yards gained with 1,862 despite having their leading rusher (Hillis) only gain 343 yards. With a healthy trio, the team could easily be over 2,500.
The proposed trio for 2009 consists of Peyton Hillis as "earth," Ryan Torain or Selvin Young as "wind," and Anthony Alridge or a new rookie, if drafted, as "fire."
Of those names, Hillis and Young are familiar. Hillis would be used on the goal line and in short-yardage, third-down situations as a tailback and as a part-time fullback (Spencer Larsen being the other) in I- formations and other plays needing a fullback.
Selvin Young came into 2008 with tremendous expectations for himself. He definitely has potential, but a nagging groin injury kept him out of most games. He could compete for the "official" starting job with Torain in training camp. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison (provided he remains with the team) has always been a big fan of Young's, so expect to see him around for that reason.
Anthony Alridge is a name that many people don't know. He joined the Broncos as a college free agent out of Houston. He is incredibly fast (4.37 40-meter time) and averaged 10.1 yards per carry in his junior season.
He is a back similar to Reggie Bush, one who needs space to use his speed. He is not powerful and can't be used "between the tackles", but he can excel at screen passes, end-arounds, and pitch plays.
Expect to see P.J. Pope and Cory Boyd return to the practice squad and Alex Haynes and Andre Hall released. Michael Pittman and Tatum Bell are solid veterans, but they may not fit into the plans of the new coach. The team may try to trade one of them for a late round draft pick (sixth or seventh perhaps).
If Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo becomes the new head coach, it is likely that he will use the trio system, since it would model the one in New York. He may even try to lure free agent Derrick Ward to Denver with him if Ryan Torain's injury is slow to heal.
A college running back to make a run at in the second round is Shonn Greene out of Iowa. He could be a very good prospect to compete with Alridge in camp. Watch this clip of him and you'll agree (advance to :35 and watch from there).
I believe that if this system pans out, the Denver Broncos' offense could see a big improvement even from last season. The offensive line is not a problem, the fact that the running game was as successful as it was (with all the injuries) is a tribute to the gaps they opened up.
With such a strong running game, Jay Cutler would be even more effective at the play-action and bootleg passes that he excels at.
Here's to an all-pro running game built from in-house prospects to restore the legendary ground game in Denver in 2009.