In April, the Denver Broncos added another valuable weapon to their offense when they selected Wisconsin running back Montee Ball in the second round (58th overall) of the draft. Last weekend, the team took a big step towards making sure Ball is successful in Denver.
Beyond Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little, the most notable running back in Broncos franchise history is obviously Terrell Davis. A sixth-round draft pick in 1995, Davis went on to win a pair of Super Bowls, league MVP and Super Bowl MVP honors and joined the 2,000-yard single season rushing club in 1998.
Davis was the final piece that quarterback John Elway and Denver's offense needed to put them over the top. Now Peyton Manning and Denver's current front office, led by Elway, are hoping Ball can be that guy.
After signing Alex Gibbs as an offensive line consultant on Sunday, history is on Denver's side.
Gibbs was Denver's offensive line coach from 1995-2003 and was a major factor in Denver's running success during that time period. Now returning to Denver, Gibbs won't be taking over running schemes (the team's official website says he will work "under" current offensive line coach Dave Magazu), but his hand in the process will be felt.
Gibbs runs a zone blocking scheme that was highly successful when Davis was with the team back in the late 1990s—a scheme that was not created by Gibbs, but gained notoriety under his watch.
To see more on the scheme, see Get Back to the Fundamentals video pieces on the stretch/gun running plays, as explained by Gibbs himself. Last season, Denver ran forms of both power- and zone-running plays.
Expect the team to continue using both schemes, while implementing Gibbs' now famous one-cut zone run.
The play above can be found on YouTube (note: Gibbs uses some harsh language in the video). Denver's offensive line blocks down the line of scrimmage to the right, when the backside (left) guard and tackle cut their defenders, creating a huge cutback lane to run through.
Meanwhile, Elway is rolling out to the left, freezing the safety. Play action (something Manning has perfected) is the perfect complement to this play when the safeties start getting aggressive.
When the cutback lanes do not open up in this particular play, the runners are taught to bounce the ball outside, something Davis did well when asked to.
In the play above, Buffalo's inside linebacker stays home and closes the running lane that would have been created if he had over pursued on the play. Because the linebacker is in position to make a play, Davis' read is to bounce the run outside.
Davis managed a four-to-five yard gain on the play, which is not bad for a first down running play.
In Ball, the Broncos have a similar back to Davis who should also run well behind Denver's revamped blocking scheme. Davis was a 5'11", 210-pound back; Ball measures up and weighs in at 5'10", 214 pounds.
"(Ball's) running style [is] a lot like Terrell Davis," Elway said during a fan forum conference call earlier this month (via the Denver Post). "We hope that Montee has a career and even a longer career than Terrell had."
Ball does not have top notch speed (he ran a 4.66 forty-yard dash at the combine), but in Denver's scheme, he should have plenty of opportunities to gain first downs and score touchdowns, something the Broncos won't have to teach him.
While at Wisconsin, Ball scored 83 career touchdowns—an NCAA record.
In 2013, defenses will be keying on Manning’s top three receiving targets (Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker), which should create running lanes for Ball. When the running lanes are resulting in first downs, play-action passes will be opened up.
That creates a never-ending cycle that should help the Broncos improve on their No. 4 overall offensive ranking in 2012. Expect Ball to get carries early and often in 2013, eventually winning the starting gig.
Fans can only hope that Ball’s talent (and production) matches that of his early predecessor in the zone-blocking scheme, Terrell Davis. Denver’s front office is hoping Ball’s career lasts longer than the four years Davis was able to play before knee injuries knocked him out of the league (Davis was on Denver’s roster for four additional years, but officially retired in 2002).
Ball’s longevity has been questioned after he had 924 carries in college, but concern over his high carry amount may be overblown.
In his final two seasons at Wisconsin, Ball had 663 carries, which was fewer than Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson and Ray Rice posted in their final collegiate seasons. Rice had 910 carries in just three years at Rutgers and is coming off his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season with the Baltimore Ravens.
So Ball's wear and tear shouldn't be too alarming—it wasn't to the Broncos. History is on your side, Montee. Now go show us what you've got.