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Rocky Mountain News:

June 15, 2008

Read this great article on the players fighting for the starting RB job and how it will result in a huge payoff by Jeff Legwold. 

For some who have seen it unfold for more than a decade, it is professional football’s Powerball, a shot at fame and fortune.

The thing is, though, you have to be in it to win it.

And everyone with a chance to carry the ball in the Broncos offense might know the deal, yet none of the crowd of backs on the roster can hazard a guess right now as to who will end up with the winning ticket.

“I’ve been in this league for 11 years – I’ve seen it happen,” said Broncos running back Michael Pittman, in his second month with the team. “You see what all of the backs who have been here have done, that maybe you didn’t know them before they were in it, or after, but when they were here, everybody knew what they did.

“You get a chance to come here and, I mean, this is like a running back’s dream. Of course I want it to be me, it’s why I came here.”

The Broncos running game, a rather substantial chunk of the offensive playbook that has powered the team to finish in the league’s top five in yards rushing per game in nine of Mike Shanahan’s 13 seasons as head coach – and 12 times in the top 10 during that span – is one of the few givens in the NFL.

Even in a profession where faint praise of others often is tossed around like a pile of anvils, the Broncos rushing attack has elevated itself. Houston Texans coach and former longtime Broncos assistant coach Gary Kubiak, who is now trying to replicate it in his own offense, has said simply, “I think you just have to say they’re going to run the ball no matter who is back there. They’ve proven it over the long haul.”

Yet, this time, as they closed out their last full team practices this past week until they report to training camp, the Broncos, without any more roster moves, will convene for two-a- days in July with a collection of backs who have the grand total of zero 1,000-yard rushing seasons in their professional careers.

Pittman rushed for 926 yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004, but that injury- riddled team finished 5-11. Selvin Young and Andre Hall, two players often referred to as situational backs by Shanahan, finished with 729 and 216 yards rushing, respectively, for the Broncos in 2007 – it was their rookie seasons – and the team’s remaining experienced backs, Cecil Sapp and Mike Bell, both play fullback.

Ryan Torain, a 222-pound rookie the Broncos targeted on the second day of the draft for fitting their potential profile, could also push his way into the mix.

“We’ll do what we need to do to be effective,” Shanahan said. “If that’s one guy, it’s one guy; if it’s more than one guy, it’s more than one guy. I always say it – not everybody believes it – but it will sort itself out.”

Pittman, who will turn 34 in August, has the inside power Shanahan covets, but Young, a decade younger, has flashed the big-play ability that also catches the coach’s eye. Young had five of the team’s eight rushes of 30 yards or more in ’07. The two likely will begin training camp as the leading candidates for the top job.

It’s a job that certainly has come with a caveat. Four straight years, beginning with Clinton Portis after the 2003 season, the team either traded or released the team’s leading rusher from the previous year. Then Travis Henry, the team’s second-leading rusher in 2007, was released.

Henry was the Broncos’ primary back during the first month of the season until injuries forced him out of the lineup, and he eventually finished second on the team in rushing, behind Young.


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