Broncos’ Moreno appears headed for first start
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado – Denver running back Correll Buckhalter missed a third consecutive practice Friday because of an ankle injury.
It appears rookie Knowshon Moreno will start in his place Sunday when the Broncos host the New England Patriots.
Buckhalter, who sprained his left ankle last Sunday, leads the NFL with 7.2 yards per carry and leads the team with 267 yards rushing. But Moreno, who has shaken off a knee sprain that sidelined him for the final three weeks of the preseason, also has become a force in Denver’s fourth-ranked rushing attack.
While Buckhalter was listed as out on the team’s injury report, Coach Josh McDaniels declined to discuss his status or who would start in his place. He did say Moreno, the team’s top draft pick, was up to speed on every aspect of the playbook and prepared for whatever role he may play.
“There’s nothing he can’t do,” McDaniels said. “He’s totally ready to go with the whole game plan, and he’s fine, mentally and physically.”
Moreno, the first running back drafted when the Broncos selected him 12th overall out of Georgia, has rushed 60 times for 249 yards, both tops among rookies. He has produced a team-high 17 first downs: 14 on rushes and three as a receiver.
He has shown a knack for running with power between the tackles and also has held up well providing pass protection.
“Those are tough yards that you’ve got to get,” Moreno said. “I think we do a good job as a backfield of getting those hard yards that we need.”
Moreno’s pass protection ability also has played a pivotal role. He helped stave off the rush with a key block when Kyle Orton threw the winning 51-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall in last week’s 17-10 victory over Dallas.
“He’s been working hard and hasn’t been making a lot of mistakes in the game,” Orton said. “He’s running the ball hard and protecting well. He can certainly do everything you ask a back to do. We don’t have to take him off the field in any situation. He’s had a nice start and he’s got a ways to go.”
Moreno said getting the chance to start “would mean a lot,” but would not change the way he prepares for a game.
“It’s no different than being out there when I wasn’t starting. I’m just trying to get the job done,” he said.
Lamont Jordan and Peyton Hillis also could see additional snaps at running back should Buckhalter miss the game.
“Opportunities are what I can make of them, so it just depends on what gets thrown my way, and I’ll try to take full advantage of it,” Hillis said. “It’s definitely a challenge but I think we’ve got the guys back there to do it. We’re not looking for a setback. We’re just looking to move ahead.”
Notes: The unbeaten Broncos managed a lighthearted moment in their final practice before Sunday’s game. Assistant coach Roman Phifer turned a stick with a football affixed to the end into a makeshift drum-major’s baton and led a parade of dancing players onto the field for kickoff drills. Some of the players kept the parade beat by banging on blocking bags and the bottom of a garbage can. … The Broncos’ Friday practice was a true dress rehearsal. Players donned the vintage yellow and brown themed uniforms that they will wear in Sunday’s “throwback” game against the Patriots, who will wear their old-school duds from the franchise’s days as the Boston Patriots.