DENVER — As a longtime NFL offensive coach, Pat Shurmur has demonstrated he likes his running back to be heavily involved in the passing game.
When Saquan Barkley was healthy as a rookie, he caught a whopping 91 passes for Shurmur’s New York Giants in 2018. Even when he wasn’t healthy last year, Barkley had 52 receptions in 13 games.
In the Minnesota Vikings’ magical season of 2017 with Shurmur as their offensive coordinator, third-down back Jerick McKinnon caught 51 passes.
So when Shurmur was hired to become the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, the team’s successful pursuit of free-agent running back Melvin Gordon shouldn’t have been a surprise. It was. One reason was aside from signing Willis McGahee in his first season as Broncos general manager in 2011, John Elway has gone with homegrown running backs.
Another was that one of those homegrown running backs, Phillip Lindsay, is coming off back-to-back, 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Lindsay, though, doesn’t have the ideal size for pass protection and had just 35 catches last year.
And so here’s Gordon, an 1,105-yard rusher with 58 catches for the rival Chargers in 2017. But while it fits that Shurmur may have pounded the table for the Broncos to sign Gordon, the veteran coach said that would be giving him too much.
“I think that’s a false narrative,’’ Shurmur said in a Zoom media call Thursday that marked the final day of offseason team meetings for Broncos veteran players. “Listen, I’m all for adding good players at every position. I feel like Phillip Lindsay’s an outstanding player that we can hand the ball or throw the ball to.
“The fact that we have two running backs now that can be very explosive with the ball in their hands whether you throw it or run it, I think is a good thing.
“I really do think you need more than one running back. Royce Freeman obviously did a great job last year as well. We’re going to try to utilize both and all three of them and try to utilize their skills.
“The whole pounding the table narrative—listen, I’m the new guy here. But I will say this, I’m looking forward to adding outstanding players to all the position groups.”
For his part, Lindsay has put on a few pounds of muscle this offseason and has been catching passes on a daily basis from quarterback Drew Lock in private workouts. Make no mistake, Lindsay will be a determined running back come training camp when it starts July 28.
With the NFL prohibiting team offseason practices because of coronavirus, Lock has organized offensive player workouts at various parks in the Denver area.
“There’s a rumor that he’s working with the players by himself,’’ Shurmur said. “That’s a rumor that I heard. Also, along with that rumor, I heard it’s going well.”
How Shurmur will utilize Gordon and Lindsay has been a much discussed topic in this Broncos offseason. There is only one football. And the Broncos are paying $9 million this season to Gordon. That’s not back-up money.
“They’ll have specific roles,’’ Shurmur said. “I think this is probably our second or third question with regard to those two players. I think there are times when they both can be on the field at the same time. There are times when one or the other will be on the field. …
“What separates a running back and both those players have it, Phillip as well as Melvin and Royce and really all the backs, is you’ve got to have some collision balance. Your ability to break a tackle, bounce and create what is normally a good gain into an explosive one. They share those traits. They’ve both been very productive in this league, and we intend to use both of them.”
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