Now that the Broncos offseason moves are mostly done, let’s take a look this week at some of the potential areas that might be of some concern – and are candidates to be addressed before the regular-season opener:
Let’s start by looking at the Broncos’ depth at running back. Denver did try to bolster depth by showing interest in free agent Brian Westbrook and signing fullback Kyle Eckel, who was waived/injured last week.
Westbrook still hasn’t made up his mind and the Broncos’ interest has waned, and I don’t think that is ultimately bad for the team. As I stated before, Westbrook isn’t a durable, reliable injury replacement if he was needed in that role, and no team is going to pay him to get just a handful of plays per game, which would have impeded Knowshon Moreno’s progress in his second year.
Still, unless there’s a last-minute change of heart, not landing Westbrook leaves a bit of a gap. The Broncos claimed Kolby Smith off waivers from Kansas City, but he has 133 yards over the last two years combined and has averaged less than 3 yards per carry. He has shown signs of life in his NFL career, but he has a lot of questions too.
Moreno has looked good in offseason camps, and the Broncos’ hope is that he is ready to carry the load and stays healthy for a full season. That’s not a given for any running back, and that’s when things might get dicey for the Broncos. Correll Buckhalter has his own injury history and he will turn 32 years old in October. He’s not a great candidate to hold up getting 20-plus carries per game if Moreno misses extended time.
That leaves J.J. Arrington – who missed msot of the offseason and all of last season with knee issues and has plenty to prove in training camp – Smith and youngsters Lance Ball and Bruce Hall. Both Ball and Hall have drawn praise from McDaniels and perhaps they could contribute if given the chance, but Hall has never played in the NFL and Ball has only one game experience, with Indianapolis two years ago. The Broncos will feel much better if a couple backs among Arrington, Smith, Ball and Hall show in training camp that they can play at a high level if needed.
Fullback is even thinner than tailback after Eckel’s injury and release. The Broncos want to use more two-back sets this season, but might not be able to if Spencer Larsen goes down. Marquez Branson, who is primarily a pass-catching tight end who can play some H-back and is not a natural fullback, would be the next fullback on the depth chart – and there’s nothing after him.
With the attrition rate for running backs in the NFL, the Broncos will likely be on the lookout for tailbacks and fullbacks in August, and hoping this group of backs remains relatively healthy.