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Published on 11/17/2008 at Mon Nov 17 14:53.
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Peyton Hillis (Reuters photo)
Peyton Hillis celebrates a touchdown against the Falcons. (Reuters photo)

As much as we all love our quarterback with a rocket arm and our giant wide receiver that leads the league in yards after the catch, the position that will make or break this team’s season can be described in one word: Backup.

This week was a stellar examination of Denver’s depth at the ‘backup position’. It is also a revealing look at Mike Shanahan’s ability to find and sign talent deep into our practice squad.

Let’s take a look at a few backup playmakers from our game against Atlanta…

1. FB/RB Peyton Hillis.
Here is a rookie that was supposed to start behind Michael Pittman at Fullback. However, he’s been asked to carry the rock in a more traditional tailback role and this week he put up 70 all purpose yards. He pushed piles, scored two touchdowns and caught passes like a wide out.

2. LB Jamie Winborn.
Winborn was a special teams player and professional backup until this season. With Boss Bailey often out with injury, Jamie has stepped up and played SO well that he was given the headset communicator for this game! To think that we would be handing an NFL journeyman this level of responsibility is unthinkable unless you have serious faith in your backups. Jamie proved his worth this weekend by posting a team best 8 solo tackles.

3. FB/LB Spencer Larsen.
What can I say… this rookie pulled iron-man duty on Sunday. And he rocked! He played FB in some sets on offense and then finished second behind fellow LB backup Winborn with 6 solo tackles for the defense.

4. LB Wesley Woodyard.
Rounding out our complete set of backup Linebackers was rookie Wesley Woodyard. We here at BroncoTalk are not surprised by his success yesterday afternoon as we’ve been big fans of his since he showed off his skills and drive this preseason. However, for a rookie to come in and play with THIS level of passion and success… well, it gives us new hope for our defense.

5. RB P.J. Pope.
This undrafted free agent spent time on the practice squads of Chicago and Green Bay before getting signed to Denver’s practice squad at the beginning of September. Now, two months later he got his first NFL regular season action… and did pretty well. This practice squad player that got cut by two other clubs racked up 35 yards on 4 carries (including a nice 15 yarder).

6. CB Josh Bell.
Here’s another rookie backup that’s was sent out onto the field in place of Pro Bowl CB Champ Bailey. He did very good for a rookie (and a backup). He lead Denver’s corners with 5 solo tackles.

7. TE/WR Nate Jackson.
Ok, Nate is no rookie. But he is usually the backup for #88. Yesterday Jackson filled in and made a couple nice catches for 32 yards.

8. RB Tatum Bell.
And last, (and probably least)… Tatum Bell. Out of football entirely and now he’s out there gaining 34 yards. And most importantly — NO FUMBLES! :)

I’m not sure if we’ve seen this type of dramatic depletion by injury in two separate positions since 2001. At one point that year we had our third string QB throwing to our 5th string wideouts (we lost to KC in overtime on week 14).

This year it’s our linebackers and running backs that have been devastated. And what will make the difference between the 8-8 season of 2001 and our current season will be our backups at those missing spots. If our backups can come in and play at (or above) the level of our starters then we have a chance to make it to the playoff and be ‘something special.’

Let’s all hope that those boys out there with the jersey numbers they don’t sell in the gift shop continue to make the difference and keep our playoff dreams alive!

Go Backups!

  • broncobear

    When a backup RB pulls nearly 9 yards a carry, the O line is blocking like a blitzkreig. Hillis would ahve had more yards, but after you hit the endzone they stop counting…

  • Kyle

    “Hillis would have had more yards, but after you hit the endzone they stop counting.” That, sir, is a great line!

    He had 70 yards combined rushing-receiving. With two touchdowns. I’m sure fantasy owners all agree – he did just fine.

  • GreasyQtip

    I love thinking about the future of our team, with so many young people we are truly rebuilding a team the right way. Very few teams seem to do that.

    Also I believe Winborn rocked the headset helmet last week as well? Am i right?

  • (stuck in) raiderland

    Speaking of backups– any ideas yet as to who we’re going to continue to have to rely on next week? Any chance we get any starters back for the Raiders game? It’s the one week here in the Bay Area I can actually see a game without hauling my butt out to a sports bar.

  • (stuck in) raiderland

    … not that I’d mind seeing somebody start both sides of the ball again. Well, okay, awesome as it is, it’s probably not best for the team, but still… pretty bada$$.

  • MikeY55

    Qtip i think Nate webster might have worn it that day vs cleveland

  • merc22

    i think we see larsen starting MLB, Hillis @ FB, Bell @ RB, and get bailey back! OH and with the 4-3 back bly will be shut-down!!

  • merc22

    reason i say that becuz bly had to play different with us playing a saftey in the box, but with 2 safties playing back…bly is more effective

    I think Larsen is a better tackler

  • Jack

    Guys. If Tatum Bell is going to be on this team he must be referred to as the ‘Bellhop.’ As in here comes the Bellhop- he’ll take your bags.

  • Socal Den Fan

    I love the way we built this depth through the draft.Shanny sure hit a home run with this class. Woodyard is a stud what a find I just can’t wait for next week raider week Cutler should have a big day. Good luck Broncos Kick their ASS.