Like breaking the plane of the goal line, 2011 is going to be a make or break year for Moreno
Knowshon Moreno is preparing to begin his third season in the NFL, and he, like every other player on the roster, is going to be faced with alterations and challenges.
The firing of Josh McDaniels and the hiring of John Fox brings with it a new philosophy. As McDaniels was a more "pass oriented" coach, Fox is widely recognized as a defensive mind who loves to control the game with a dominant rushing attack.
This type of situation would typically be a running backs dream.
However, in Knowshon's case, 2011 may prove to be his final attempt to make it as a starting running back in Denver—and prove to the Denver fans he is more than just "Know-Show".
Drafted Under a Dark Cloud?
In just two seasons at Georgia, Moreno was able to rush for over 2,700 yards and 30 TDs on his way to garnering Heisman trophy consideration entering into his sophomore season, along with several school records and SEC recognition.
It was reported that he had the perfect combination of speed and power and was widely recognized as one of the top backs available going into the 2009 NFL Draft.
However, when Moreno was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 12th pick overall in the 2009 Draft, there were mixed emotions.
Many fans felt the Broncos front office and rookie head coach Josh McDaniels should have utilized the pick to attempt a defensive reconstruction. Others felt the Broncos already had a solid running back with the emergence of Peyton Hillis the prior season.
Customarily, as is the case in the NFL and all professional sports, GMs and coaches do not seek the advice of the fans.
With that act of defiance in mind, the Broncos went ahead and selected the electrifying running back out of the University of Georgia in the first round—much to the chagrin of the fans.
For Moreno, this was his opportunity to prove he was worth that No. 12 selection. All he needed to do was come into training camp, display his talents on the field and justify that first round selection, thus proving all of the naysayers wrong.
Instead, he held out for the first eight days of training camp, but inevitably singed a five-year contract worth $16.7 million with the team holding an option for 2014.
Compounding the time he missed in training camp was an injury that Moreno sustained during training camp that would keep him out much of the preseason.
This would, unfortunately, not be the last time fans would hear of a Moreno injury.
High Expectations? Or Too Much Hype?
Is 2011 a Make or Break Year for Knowshon Moreno?
To say Moreno's first two years in the league have been a disappointment would be an understatement. Some fans have attached the moniker "Know-Show" to Moreno due to his level of play and inability to stay healthy.
After sustaining the aforementioned injury which put him out of most of the preseason, Moreno struggled to get his "legs". He battled through nagging injuries all throughout his rookie campaign on his way to 947 yards and seven TDs.
He also displayed talent catching the ball out of the backfield, registering 213 receiving yards and adding two more touchdowns; bringing his season total to nine.
Yet, there were complaints about Moreno's inability to protect the ball, and although he was able to almost reach the 1,000 pinnacle in his rookie season, he only managed an average of less than four yards per carry.
In assessing his rookie season, one could easily say he competed mightily despite being oft injured, and he showed definite promise for the future. "Get him a full training camp, and it will be a different story" was the premise that most in Broncos Country shared.
But that is not what happened.
Just as the previous season started, Moreno was injured. While running sprints, he injured his hamstring. It was an injury that would plague him the rest of the season.
Moreno Takes the Fall?
In 2010, Denver registered its worst rushing output in franchise history, and it seems many were pointing the finger at Moreno—to do so is blatantly unfair.
The truth is, Knowshon did not have the benefit of having solid guys in the trenches to block for him. Ryan Harris was oft injured, Clady was still recuperating from an offseason knee injury and Denver boasted two rookie starters in the interior.
Yet Knowshon Moreno was still able to show the glimpses of talent that justified that first round pick.
In a game on the road against the Chiefs, Moreno almost singlehandedly carried the Broncos on his back to victory in arguably Kyle Orton's worst game in a Broncos uniform.
There was promise once again—and then he was injured again.
For the rest of the season, the action that Knowshon saw was sparse (17 carries for 65 yards in three games) as Denver, not playing for anything but pride, confided in Lance Ball and Correll Buckhalter to handle the running back duties.
The final stat line for Knowshon Moreno's 2010 season: 779 yards rushing with five rushing TDs and a 4.3 yards per carry average. He was also able to contribute to the passing game with 372 yards and three TDs.
Overall, should one be encouraged by that production?
Which brings Knowshon to where he is today. But where is that exactly?
2011 Has to Be His Year...Or...?
Obviously, there are several mitigating factors that have contributed to Knowshon's lack of consistent production.
The first is the most obvious—injuries. Whether it's a hamstring or an ankle, Knowshon cannot seem to stay on the field for consecutive games at a time, or even for consecutive series at a time. This type of fragility will not work well in a run dominated offense which Fox is certainly going to implement.
The second contributor to Knowshon's lack of production is clearly the production of the guys in front. If they are not opening holes for him, where is he supposed to go? Maybe the "system" of the running game did not suit Moreno's running style?
The third may be a bit of a stretch, but it still bears mentioning.
Does he have a coachable attitude? Does he have a mindset and mental toughness that is required to not only compete, but succeed at the pro-level?
This is solely mentioned due to an interview given by Terrell Davis.
The former Broncos great, and fellow Georgia alum, stated that he attempted to reach out to Moreno in an effort to offer encouragement and assistance.
The calls were never returned.
This may come across as disturbing to some fans who would like to think that a player who has struggled as mightily as Moreno has, would welcome any type of support and encouragement he could get.
Who does not return a call to Terrell Davis?
Clearly Knowshon doesn't.
However, it should be noted that a breakout season for Moreno is possible. The Broncos should be switching to a different blocking scheme which will help Moreno get back to a "one cut and go" mentality.
He could be healthy all season, which would help his case immensely—he could actually make it through an entire training camp and play in a preseason game or two.
He could contribute to bringing back that mental and physical toughness.
Bringing the Dominance Back
Up until recently, more accurately the last four years, the Broncos were widely recognized as one of the elite rushing teams in the league.
Former coach Mike Shanahan had the profound ability to implement any running back into the zone blocking scheme Denver ran, and a 1,000 yard rusher was a veritable certainty. The most obvious of these backs was Terrell Davis, one of the greatest running backs in team history.
Yet, even when TD went down with a knee injury, and unfortunately never completely got back up, the dominance of the Denver running game continued. Backs such as Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Rueben Droughns and Tatum Bell were able to eclipse that 1,000 yard plateau.
Essentially, a Shanahan coached offense produced a 1,000 yard rusher in 10 of his 14 seasons as head coach of the Broncos. It is no coincidence that there were also a myriad of playoff appearances, in addition to victories and championships in those years.
It is this dominance that John Fox intends to bring back to Denver—but will Knowshon be able to comply?
In taking all of these factors into consideration, as mentioned before, Knowshon is going to be faced with a different sort of circumstances from a different sort of coach.
If he doesn't prepare himself both mentally and physically for the season, if he doesn't put up No. 12 overall numbers as he has been expected to do but has not, what does Denver do with him?
One thing is for certain, Fox believes in the strength of a running game. If Knowshon is not his type of player, and he is not productive in 2011, do not be surprised if the Broncos go in another direction—sooner rather than later.
It's a make or break year for Knowshon Moreno. I think he knows it, and I think he will show it too.
But if he doesn't—can you say DeAngelo Williams?