Bron­cos try­ing to re­vive a dead run­ning game

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Cameron Wolfe

The bat­tle of at­tri­tion is emp­ty­ing the Bron­cos’ run­ning back room, one player at a time.

In­juries took away Den­ver’s most ef­fec­tive run­ners, C.J. An­der­son and Kapri Bibbs. A com­bi­na­tion of an in­creased work­load, pres­sure, mak­ing the wrong reads, and a lin­ger­ing shoul­der in­jury have ham­pered cur­rent lead back Devon­tae Booker.

The re­sult is a run­ning game in des­per­ate need of a spark as Den­ver em­barks upon the fourth quar­ter of its sea­son, be­gin­ning Sun­day at Ten­nessee. The Bron­cos were count­ing on their run­ning game to be the core of their of­fense, mak­ing life

eas­ier for their young quar­ter­backs. That hasn’t been the case.

Newly-signed run­ning back Justin Forsett brought a burst of en­ergy, fa­mil­iar­ity and in­trigue all week, but at 31 years old it’s un­known how much he has left in the tank. “I’m very fresh,” he said.

Mean­while, Booker knows his five-game run as a starter has been dis­ap­point­ing. Bibbs looked much bet­ter in the past cou­ple weeks, par­tic­u­larly Sun­day against Jack­sonville. Booker, though, had 18 car­ries for just 35 yards against the Jaguars.

“I pretty much take credit for all of that,” said Booker, the rookie fourth-round pick out of Utah. “We gotta start run­ning the ball ef­fec­tively and it starts with me.”

An­der­son’s value seem­ingly has in­creased dur­ing his ab­sence. Be­fore An­der­son was placed on in­jured re­serve with a torn menis­cus, the Bron­cos were av­er­ag­ing 111.6 rush­ing yards per game through seven games on 4.2 yards per carry. They were mid­dle-of-the-pack num­bers, but at least their run­ning de­fense kept de­fenses hon­est.

Since An­der­son’s in­jury Den­ver is av­er­ag­ing 84.2 yards rush­ing per game on 3.0 yards per carry.

“Some­times you get the ball and a (de­fend- er) is com­ing free and you can’t re­ally do too much. But I’m taught to run the ball hard ev­ery time I get it,” said Booker, who has 510 rush­ing yards on a 3.5 yards per carry av­er­age. “This last week, I wasn’t hit­ting the hole hard enough. I wasn’t giv­ing things a chance. I’d just go and make the wrong read.”

When spelling An­der­son ear­lier in the sea­son, Booker looked spry and ef­fec­tive, earn­ing nearly equal play­ing time. But since he has be­come the top back his pro­duc­tion has dwin­dled. He ad­mit­ted the left shoul­der in­jury he suf­fered in his first start Oct. 30 against San Diego is still “lin­ger­ing around,” but he re­fuses to blame the in­jury for his strug­gles.

“Look what we’ve been through at that spot,” Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak said about the run­ning backs. “Booker is try­ing to hang on. He’s a young kid, but he’s try­ing to carry a big load.”

The run game prob­lems aren’t all on the run­ning backs. The Bron­cos’ of­fen­sive line has strug­gled to run block and pass pro­tect all sea­son. Run­ning lanes are of­ten small or non-ex­is­tent.

En­ter Forsett, whom Den­ver picked up off waivers on Mon­day af­ter Detroit re­leased him. Booker was pleased with the ad­di­tion, cit­ing Forsett’s lead­er­ship and the need for another back be­cause they were “drop­ping like flies.”

Forsett said 99 per­cent of the Bron­cos of­fense is the same as when he was with Ku­biak in Bal­ti­more in 2014. That fa­mil­iar­ity has Ku­biak ex­pect­ing Forsett to make an im­me­di­ate im­pact Sun­day. Forsett, who has spent seven of his nine NFL sea­sons in a zone-read sys­tem, knows what makes a back ef­fec­tive in it.

“You gotta be pa­tient with de­ci­sive de­ci­sion­mak­ing,” Forsett said. “I love it be­cause it gives you a lot of op­tions and free­dom that some of the other schemes don’t al­low you to have.”

Forsett is hope­ful re­unit­ing with Ku­biak can give him a glimpse of the pro­duc­tion he had in 2014, his only Pro Bowl sea­son. His lead­er­ship, com­pe­ti­tion and men­tor­ship also can only help Booker as he seeks his own im­prove­ments.

“Book is great, man. I watched him while he was in col­lege. A lot of ath­letic abil­ity,” Forsett said. “Tal­ented kid, smart kid. Sky is the limit for him. I see the ta­lent – he’s go­ing to be a re­ally good foot­ball player.”

Run­ning back Devon­tae Booker, who rushed for 76 of the Bron­cos’ 103 yards against New Or­leans, has been ham­pered by a lin­ger­ing shoul­der in­jury. He had 18 car­ries for just 35 yards against Jack­sonville in Week 13. Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

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