For Broncos running backs, how important is it to find a rhythm?
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Getting enough work to satisfy the members of the Broncos’ running-back room is tricky.
Melvin Gordon III is accomplished, and, despite the spate of fumbles, remains effective all around — particularly in short goal-to-go situations, as a pass catcher and in blitz pickup.
Javonte Williams is dynamic and averages just under 5 yards per carry. Only a drop last Sunday and a fumble near the goal line in Seattle sullied his work.
And Mike Boone, already a special-teams standout, played 14 offensive snaps in Week 3 — 4 more than in Weeks 1 and 2 combined. That was the second-highest snap count of his two-season Broncos career, behind 17 snaps of work at Kansas City last year when Gordon was inactive.
How much work is enough to get into a true rhythm?
It depends who you ask.
“You need a couple of runs in a row,” Gordon said.
“The thing to get in a rhythm is, you get a couple of runs, you like to get a couple of runs in a row — especially me, because [Williams] is out there a little bit more, so, when I go out there, he’ll probably go two series in a half, and then I’ll come in,” Gordon added.
As for Williams?
“I just run when I get the ball,” he said, downplaying the notion that getting into a rhythm matters.
“Some people say it do, some people say it don’t,” he added a moment later. “But I feel like if you’re a good player, whenever you get the ball in your hands, you’re going to make something happen.”
To date, here’s how the snaps have broken down:
- Week 1: 38 of 66 snaps, 57.6 percent
- Week 2: 47 of 72 snaps, 65.3 percent
- Week 3: 33 of 74 snaps, 44.6 percent
- Total: 118 of 212 snaps, 55.7 percent
- Week 1: 27 of 66 snaps, 40.9 percent
- Week 2: 23 of 72 snaps, 31.9 percent
- Week 3: 28 of 74 snaps, 37.8 percent
- Total: 78 of 212 snaps, 36.8 percent
- Week 1: 3 of 66 snaps, 4.5 percent
- Week 2: 7 of 72 snaps, 9.7 percent
- Week 3: 14 of 74 snaps, 18.9 percent
- Total: 24 of 212 snaps, 11.3 percent
What is interesting is that Williams has touched the football on 44.1 percent of his snaps — 52 of 118 — while Gordon touches the ball on more than half of his snaps — 42 of 78, for 53.8 percent.
Boone has just one touch — a catch — through three games. Much of his use has been as a receiver, split out from the backfield.
Also, Boone and Gordon have lined up together on 8 snaps. To date in the regular season, Nathaniel Hackett has not used Williams at the same time as either Gordon or Boone.
Williams knows all about time-share arrangements; he was a part of one at North Carolina with current Jets RB Michael Carter. The same is true for Gordon, who split repetitions with Austin Ekeler during his final three years with the Los Angeles Chargers.
That dynamic had a different vibe than the one in Denver, Gordon noted, because of the backs’ skill sets.
“When I did it with Austin, me and him, we rotated on our own. So, I kind of knew what he was good at, and he kind of know what he liked and what he was good at,” Gordon said. “So, we just worked the situations considering what we were best at. It was really easy for me and him to work it.
“But we’re doing a three-man rotation now, and me and ‘Vonte kind of do the same things. Neither one of us really want to get out. So, it’s difficult, man.”
And a challenge for Gordon is waiting for work. Last Sunday, Williams touched the ball on the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage. Gordon waited until the third possession.
Against Houston a week earlier, Gordon got his first chance after two Williams carries on the Broncos’ first series. But that drive saw the Broncos generate two first downs. It took four possessions against the 49ers in Week 3 for Denver to notch a single first down.
For a player who started all but 10 of his 98 career games before this season, this is an adjustment. Gordon knows he must adjust his sideline plan to stay warm.
“The first couple of games, I struggled with it a little bit,” Gordon acknowledged. “First couple of games, too, you get kind of tight on the sideline, and you never know how long a series is going to go. You never know how long a defensive series is going to go. And you’ve got TV timeouts, you put those in there. So, from the start of the game to when I get in, I’m sitting a little bit. And you could pull muscles.
“You go right in, and you just have to be ready.
“So, it’s a different adjustment. I’ve gotta be on the bike. I bring my little roller thing out, and I try to roll my legs and stuff.”
It’s a change from what Gordon has known. But just as he did last week, when he scored a touchdown and had a crucial blitz pickup to make the Broncos’ longest play of the night possible, he understands that he must maximize his chances.
“It’s different for me, but I don’t mind going in third down, fifth down, I don’t give a [darn] what down it is,” Gordon said.
“As long as I’m getting some reps, I’m happy about it.”