DENVER – It had been three years since Willis McGahee carried the football as often as he did Sunday. On the one hand, that meant he was rested. On the other, it meant re-adjusting to a burden he last handled on a weekly basis four years ago.
“I just finished icing, so I figure I’ll be all right, but you know, that’s just part of the game,” McGahee said after his 101-yard, one-touchdown effort Sunday afternoon.
“You’re going to be sore regardless if you get 10, 15 carries. But I got 28. It’s going to be a little sore.”
Soreness, he could handle, just like he handled his 28 carries. That tally was not only his highest in three years, but the most for a Bronco since Reuben Droughns ran the football 28 times on Nov. 28, 2004 at Oakland.
In the 2004 season, Droughns had five games with at least 28 carries. In 2003, the Broncos had three 28-plus-carry games from their running backs (two by Clinton Portis and one by Quentin Griffin). Overall, from 2000-04, the Broncos had 16 instances of a running back with 28 or more rushes.
That’s testament to the fact that eras have changed; this is an epoch of split duties to preserve the health of running backs. In the 2010 and 2011 seasons, just 23 games of 28 or more carries were recorded league-wide; in the 2007 season alone, there were 67.
Don’t expect the Broncos to repeat it very often, especially since coach John Fox’s best running games have seen shared burdens, never more effectively than between DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart for the Carolina Panthers in 2009, when they became the NFL’s first pair of 1,100-yard rushers from the same team.
“We’ve always done it by committee — who has a hot hand,” Fox said Monday. “Yesterday it was more Willis than Lance Ball.
“In hindsight we probably should have given Lance more touches, and maybe taken a little bit off of Willis, but like everything there is a trust and experience factor going into it.
“Lance, it was his first opportunity. I think he earned that trust based on his performance and Willis McGahee as well.”
Ball was effective in limited work Sunday, averaging 4.7 yards on six carries. Their performance allowed them to overcome the loss of Knowshon Moreno, who struggled in Week 1 before injuring his hamstring.
The three-year veteran Moreno, Ball and practice-squad call-up Jeremiah Johnson can learn from the nine-year vet McGahee,
“Willis has been around,” said Fox. “He knows the NFL game. He understands the defenses; he understands what people are trying to do; he understands what we’re doing, so [they can learn from] the experience and wisdom and knowledge that Willis has.”
… Fox had no update on the statuses of wide receiver Eddie Royal and tight end Julius Thomas, who succumbed to groin and ankle injuries, respectively, in Sunday’s win …
… The Broncos will leave a day earlier than normal for Tennessee, departing Denver on Friday afternoon after practice. “We are trying to be at peak performance on Sunday, so just to get the trip out of their systems and feel a little bit better on that second night’s sleep,” Fox said. He typically had his Panthers teams leave Charlotte, N.C. a day early for games in the Mountain and Pacific time zones …
… The rash of injuries to the Broncos and all teams can be attributed to any number of potential factors, but Fox sees the lockout-wrecked offseason as a cause. “Offseason conditioning is important,” Fox said. “I’m not saying it has to be at the length it’s been in the past. We’ve made those adjustments. It’s hard for me to say on this team just because it’s my first year with this team—knowing the players, knowing what kind of conditioning level they’re in. So, I do think it has something to do with the offseason.”