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Broncos positional outlook: Running backs

The veteran Melvin Gordon brings new dimension while 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay adjusts.
Credit: AP

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Let’s play the game the Broncos have been playing during this virus-riddled, offseason: Hollywood Squares, The Mega Zoom Version.

Have you seen it? The Broncos have divvied up their offseason into positional Zoom meetings. While only 9 squares were used in TV’s Tic Tac Toe game show that made Paul Lynde famous in the 1960s-70s, Zoom video calls of 2020 can put up to 20 boxes of people on a screen.

Players must work out on their own. Then there’s the boxed-in Zoom meetings for about 90 minutes a day, four days a week. One has to wonder what good is learning plays if there’s no on-field application.

But it’s something. And what else can they do?

Today, we look at the Broncos’ virtual Zoom room of coach Curtis Modkins and the running backs.

Center square: Curtis Modkins

He’s been an NFL coach for 12 years. He has guided five 1,000-yard rushing seasons from four running backs – Phillip Lindsay (2018-19), the Bears’ Justin Howard (2017), the Lions’ Reggie Bush (2013) and the Bills’ C.J. Spiller (2012).

In his first two years with the Broncos, Modkins has brought along the undrafted Lindsay and third-round selection Royce Freeman, rookies in 2018, as the team’s running back duo.

Credit: AP
Curtis Modkins

Upper right square: Melvin Gordon

New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur needed a versatile back who can play a prominent role in the passing game. The Broncos invested two years and $16 million into the former Charger with $9 million coming this year.

At 215 pounds, Gordon has the strong base to pick up blitzes in pass protection and he’s also a 1,000-yard rusher/50-catch offensive threat – providing he stays healthy and regains form after a disappointing 2019 season in which he was slowed at the start by a four-game contract holdout.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Melvin Gordon is tackled by Denver Broncos linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Denver.

Lower left square: Phillip Lindsay

Not often does a back-to-back, 1,000-yard rusher get demoted. The question is, how will Lindsay continue to get the ball when he’s a better two-down rusher than a third-down back?

Lindsay has been working extensively on his receiving skills this offseason. Those who have watched him grow up in Denver, the University of Colorado and the early part of his Broncos’ career know better than to assume Lindsay won’t have an offensive impact in 2020.

“I’ve heard this stuff my whole entire life,’’ Lindsay told 9NEWS after the Gordon signing. “And it’s never ever panned out how everybody has wanted it to pan out. Until someone proves me wrong, I’m going to continue to do what I do.’’

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Phillip Lindsay on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Denver.

Right, middle square: Royce Freeman

At 238 pounds, he’s now the different back in the room. Freeman’s problem his first two years was that injuries curtailed his power. He had a high-ankle sprain as a rookie, making it difficult to push off, and a shoulder injury last year, making it difficult to ram in there.

He wound up working primarily as a third-down back as Lindsay’s No. 2 the past 1 ½ seasons. The Gordon signing may hurt Freeman’s playing time more than Lindsay’s.

The Broncos primarily only used two backs the past two years and Shurmur is a bell-cow running back type of coordinator so Freeman may be the third man out.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Royce Freeman on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Denver.

Middle left square: LeVante Bellamy

An undrafted rookie who got $60,000 in guarantees including a $25,000 signing bonus – which at the very least secures a practice squad spot.

Played five years at Western Michigan as he received a medical redshirt his first sophomore year. He’s 5-foot-9, 190 pounds but can fly. Was the MAC’s Offensive Player of the Year as a fifth-year senior in 2019 after rushing for 1,472 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Fill-in squares: Andrew Beck, Khalfani Muhammad, Jeremy Cox

Beck is a tight end/H-back type who should get the occasional fullback snap after the Broncos traded away Andy Janovich.

The 5-foot-7, 174-pound Muhammad spent all of last year and the last month of 2018 on the Broncos’ practice squad. He has shown in the preseason he can play, but the Broncos may not be his best fit as he’s too similar in size and style to Lindsay and now Bellamy.

Cox was undrafted out of Old Dominion last season. A big back (223 pounds) who can run (4.42 in 40) even if he was never the leading rusher in his four seasons with the Monarchs. He spent last offseason with the Chargers and was a futures signing the day after the Broncos’ 2019 season ended.

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