It had been four years since Broncos running back Willis McGahee had a workload like he did in 2011, when he carried the football 249 times and had six 20-carry games — twice as many as he amassed in the three previous seasons combined.
Don’t expect McGahee to have that burden again — and not only because Peyton Manning’s arrival puts the Broncos in pass-intensive mode.
McGahee likely will not be on a strict limitation of carries and overall touches, but the Broncos will try to watch his workload to extend his effectiveness.
“The thing is, with running backs, when they start to get a little bit older, you have to manage their workload — not only in practice, but also in games,” executive vice president John Elway told over 8,000 fans on a conference call Tuesday.
McGahee will still be the Broncos’ primary back on first and second downs, but after he was dogged with knee and hamstring discomfort in November and December of 2011, they’ll be quicker to relieve him for backup options Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball and rookie Ronnie Hillman than they were last year.
“The last thing we want to do with Willis is wear him out,” Elway said. “Obviously he does a good job on first and second down; he’s tremendous between the tackles; he still has great feet and is our big back at 240 pounds.”
That means you might see plenty of McGahee in short yardage and at the goal line. He was responsible for the only rushing touchdown scored by the first-team offense in the preseason, when he followed Chris Gronkowski’s lead block for a 1-yard touchdown run in the preseason loss to Seattle on Aug. 18.
Since Tim Tebow is no longer around to siphon goal-to-go touchdowns from McGahee, it would be no surprise if McGahee easily surpasses his 2011 touchdown tally — which was a surprisingly modest four scores. But if the Broncos end up watching his workload — and running the football less anyway — then matching his 1,199-yard total of last year will be nearly impossible.