There wasn’t any room left for Cassius Vaughn.
Not with Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence set to duel for the starting right cornerback slot opposite Champ Bailey. Not with one of those two in line to become the nickel back. Not with last year’s nickel back, Chris Harris, poised to push the two veterans or prepared to settle in as the dime back. And not with fourth-round pick Omar Bolden, who John Elway and John Fox have praised for having the value of a first- or second-round pick.
All that doesn’t even account for Syd’Quan Thompson, who was poised to play a role in the Broncos’ five- and six-defensive back formations had he not torn his Achilles tendon in the preseason finale at Arizona.
The trade of Vaughn for Colts fullback Chris Gronkowski on Wednesday makes sense because it filled a position that was vacant of experience — and took from a spot where the Broncos had a surplus. Gronkowski and Austin Sylvester are the Broncos’ only fullbacks, but Gronkowski is the only Broncos’ only fullback to have played in the regular season — 21 games with Dallas and Indianapolis since 2010.
It also serves as a reminder that the Broncos, while more pass-intensive than they were in 2011, won’t abandon the ground game that paced the league. For that to work in short yardage, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and head coach John Fox need a capable fullback like they had with Brad Hoover in Carolina.
Given that fullback is typically a position with a three-year learning curve, Gronkowski should be ready to help. The Broncos probably won’t lead the league in total rushing yardage this year, but if they can lead the league in per-carry average and/or touchdown-to-carry ratio, they should be on course for a memorable season.
“Our running game was No. 1 last year, so you can’t forget about them,” wide receiver Eric Decker said. “We’re going to establish the run and complement that with a great passing game.”