To awaken ground game, Broncos need Marlon Mack to return to his old form
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Let’s not forget two things about Marlon Mack.
First has a 1,000-yard season on his resume. He hit that milestone in 2019 for the Indianapolis Colts, averaging a solid 4.4 yards per carry in the process despite facing defenses stacked to stop the run in the wake of Andrew Luck’s shock retirement in that year’s preseason.
Second, before he tore his Achilles tendon in Week 1 of the 2020 campaign, he was fast becoming one of the NFL’s most consistent and effective running backs. With good vision and explosiveness as two of his calling cards, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry prior to the injury that changed everything.
It wasn’t just the injury. It was the fact that in its wake, Jonathan Taylor became the Colts’ bell-cow running back. By the time Mack returned in 2021, he was but a relief option — even though he felt all the way back.
“I felt like that last year when I was still on the Colts. Just that J.T. had an amazing year,” Mack said. “It was great even just watching him. But I just had to wait on that chance and continue waiting.”
And after a career-low 3.6 yards per carry in limited 2021 action, Mack ping-ponged around the NFL.
The Broncos are Mack’s third team in the last three months. Houston released him at the end of the preseason. San Francisco picked him up for its practice squad and promoted him to its 53-player roster for 21 days before sending him back down. The Broncos signed him directly from the 49ers’ practice squad, but he spent the last four weeks as a game-day inactive.
Now, with Melvin Gordon cut and Mike Boone and Chase Edmonds both on injured reserve, he will get his opportunity this week. Mack and Latavius Murray are likely to receive the bulk of the rushing work when the Broncos face the Carolina Panthers. Practice-squad member Devine Ozigbo is expected to fill out the room.
It’s the culmination of a meandering trek that began when his career forked in Week 1 of the 2020 season with the Achilles injury.
During the arduous path back, Mack learned patience. Of course, that was also the hardest part of the road back, he explained.
“Being healthy but not getting that chance out there on that field. Just being patient, I’d say that’s the hardest thing,” Mack said. “But it’s been a good long road.”
Mack will get his chances Sunday. And with Javonte Williams’ rehabilitation and recovery likely to stretch into the 2022 season, he has an opportunity in front of him. Succeed, and he could be one of the pillars of the Broncos’ ground attack if Williams must start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
“I hope I can get back to showing what I am. That’s the plan, man,” Mack said. “I feel good. I still feel explosive.”
There’s a saying that Colts grow up to be Broncos. After all, Peyton Manning was originally a Colt. And John Elway was drafted as a Colt.
Of course, it’s not reasonable to expect that sort of seismic franchise impact from Mack. But if he can be 90 percent of who he was in Indianapolis, the Broncos could find a short-term fix to their ground woes.