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Broncos Notes: Move over zone blocking scheme, pulling now part of Broncos’ run game identity

Lindsay highly questionable to play vs. Chargers. Former Bronco Brandon Staley a rising coaching star. Russolino receives no sympathy from his coach.
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — All those big behemoths started stampeding in the Broncos’ week 11 win against the Miami Dolphins.

Dalton Risner would pull from left guard to right. Lloyd Cushenberry would move from center to left, as would Graham Glasgow, Netane Muti or Austin Schlottmann from their right guard position. Sometimes, left tackle Garett Bolles will sprint out to the boundaries. And they’ve been pulling and trapping and counter-blocking ever since.

Running back Melvin Gordon III has been running behind all these moving, heavy blockers to the tune of 86 yards a game, 6.4 yards a carry in the past four games that doesn’t include the no-QB fiasco against the Saints. Where have you gone, Ryan Clady, Tom Nalen and the Broncos’ vaunted zone-blocking run game? The Broncos have a new identity with their pulling run-block scheme.

“I think it always has been for me,’’ said Broncos’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “I've always been a one-back, power-type guy. Here we do it much more, and I think we do it better than places that I've been. I think our guys have embraced it. We still run a considerable amount of zone plays. I think there's a place for all of it.

“I think you got to be able to lock the spots and run-zone plays, but then I also think the block down pull teams can create big plays because the ball is running around in the C-gap and it may bounce to the edge where there's a lot of daylight. So, there's a place for all of it. I think it's definitely part of our identity, and that goes back to—we do it over and over and over and so I think what's happening now is our guys are getting lots of reps against a lot of looks, so we can adjust the play and keep it efficient.”

Lindsay may be doubtful to play Sunday

Sources told 9News that the Broncos’ other starting running back, Phillip Lindsay, will have to rally considerably to play Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers at Sofi Stadium because of knee and hip injuries. Lindsay has been in an out of the lineup this year because of various injuries. After rushing for at least 1,011 yards in his first two seasons with the Broncos, Lindsay has 502 this year in 11 games.

Outside linebacker and 2020 Pro Bowler Bradley Chubb will also be questionable, although with a better chance to play, against the Chargers.

“We'll see how they progress through the week,’’ said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. “Hopefully, we might be able to get them to practice on Saturday some before we take off for L.A. and we'll see, but I do think it's going to go down to the wire.”

If Lindsay can’t go, running back Royce Freeman did return to practice from his foot injury Thursday and the team has undrafted rookie LeVante Bellamy protected on its practice squad.

Rising coach star

Last year, the Los Angeles Rams made a surprising move when they hired away the relatively inexperienced Brandon Staley, who had served one season as the Broncos’ outside linebackers coach. Surprising, but correct hire. The Rams have improved from 13th in the league in total defense last year to No. 1 this year, and now Staley is getting mentioned as a head coaching candidate – even though his NFL coaching experience is two years with Fangio and Ed Donatell with the Bears in 2017-18 and last year with Fangio and Donatell with the Broncos, before he got his lead defensive responsibility with the Rams this year.

Donatell believes Staley is one of those rare coaches like Rams’ head coach Sean McVay who doesn’t need to be wizened through age or ample experience to find success.

“I’ve been around for three decades coaching, and every once in a while, a young, bright guy who sees the game globally comes around,’’ Donatell said. “This guy sees offense, defense and special teams, and he knows how they work. Mature beyond his years, and we have early evidence.

“I used to have countless discussions with this guy. We spent three straight years together. We spent a lot of time, and he was always about philosophy and how he was going to put it together. There’s not a lot of evidence that a guy can take over a defense with no OTAs and a shortened training camp and have them at the top of the NFL right now. They’ve played some good teams. He’s a great communicator and a great teacher. There’s no question about that.

“I know he has Aaron Donald and (Jalen) Ramsey. They are premium players in this league, but he has all the other guys playing well. He can get all players playing well and playing in harmony. It’s an extraordinary job of teaching to get that done in one year and contribute that to their team. I view this guy—this is the Sean McVay of defense. This is that young, bright mind that sees it all and can communicate with people. He’s outstanding with his relationships in the building and how he relates to people.’’

Blunt assessment

After finally getting his chance to kick in the NFL last week, 31-year-old Taylor Russolino had a forgettable performance, missing a 51-yard field goal, which is no crime, but also two extra points, which is. He also had a kickoff run back 53 yards by the Bills’ Andre Roberts. Russolino got no sympathy from special teams coordinator Tom McMahon.

“Taylor was terrible,’’ McMahon said Thursday. “He had a bad day. It got a little big for him with the wind—he didn't handle it right. I think it shows how happy we are getting Brandon (McManus) back. This is a tough league. It took Brandon McManus two years to kick a football in this league with failures and this, that and the other.’’

McManus returned off the COVID reserve list this week while Russolino returned to the practice squad as the Broncos’ “quarantine” kicker.

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