The Cut to 53: Offensive Backfield

Willis McGahee

McGAHEE: ... based on NFL experience, the senior member of the backfield -- but its only newcomer.

In (7): Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Brady Quinn (QBs); Knowshon Moreno, Willis McGahee, Lance Ball (RBs); Spencer Larsen (FB).
Out (3): Adam Weber (QB), Jeremiah Johnson (RB), Austin Sylvester (FB).
Injured Reserve (1): Brandon Minor (RB).

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – There was little question as to who would comprise the Broncos’ backfield after Saturday’s roster deadline.

With Tebow and Quinn still co-No. 2 quarterbacks, neither of them was going to be on the chopping block at the cutdown. Ball had been the No. 3 tailback behind McGahee and Moreno, who in effect were co-No. 1′s. And it was unlikely that the Broncos would hand the fullback position to a rookie considering that the position typically takes two to three years to master at the professional level.

Nevertheless, when your top two running backs are a nine-year veteran and a three-year man who has suffered muscle pulls in each of his first two training camps, depth is an obvious concern when only Ball is in reserve. Even counting Larsen, the Broncos’ stated commitment to run revitalization now revolves around just four backs on the 53-man roster.

No problem, says the general manager.

“There’s a lot of teams that go that route,” Brian Xanders said Saturday.

One of them was John Fox’s Carolina Panthers in 2008, who went through most of their season with rookie Jonathan Stewart, two-year vet DeAngelo Williams, veteran utility back Nick Goings and fullback Brad Hoover. They kept a fifth running back, Decori Birmingham, on the practice squad throughout the year, but the good health of the top four meant that he was not needed.

No one’s saying that the Broncos’ group can turn into the second coming of that quartet, three of whom were on the 2009 Panthers team that became the first in NFL history to feature two 1,100-yard runners. But the success over those two years — during which the Panthers won 20 of 32 games — offers a template from which a backfield can be built.

But that being said, Xanders knows more moves might be coming.

“We’ll see how that goes. We’ll monitor it,” he said.

Given some of the cuts around the league, the Broncos’ backfield complement could expand as soon as Sunday.

NOTES:

  • Of the seven backfield players on Saturday’s 53-man roster, none are rookies and only one wasn’t with the Broncos last year (McGahee).
  • Xanders was understandably non-committal about whether Weber would end up on the practice squad. “We’ll see what happens with him on the waiver wire,” Xanders said.
  • Xanders said that the tight ends will, in effect, be the backup fullbacks on the roster. This ended up being the case last year when Dan Gronkowski, who was waived Saturday, received some work at the spot in spite of never having played the position before.
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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.

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