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Published on 06/12/2012 at Tue Jun 12 17:33.
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Willis McGahee

Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee catches a pass during NFL football practice at the team's training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Monday, June 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Just because the Denver Broncos brought in one of the NFL’s all-time greatest passers this offseason doesn’t mean they will be abandoning the run game. The common message from the Broncos coaches and players following the team’s first Mini-Camp practice today: fear Peyton Manning, but be ready for the Broncos ground game to punch you in the mouth as well.

“I think they’re going to sleep on the running game because we have Peyton coming in and he’s known for throwing the ball,” running back Willis McGahee said when asked what he expects from opposing defenders. That’s a situation that has to excite the 2011 Pro Bowler, but has also rightfully caught the attention of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

“I think Coach McCoy has addressed the team, and he’s really preaching balance,” Manning said. “(We’re) trying to be three-dimensional, where on any down and distance, you can drop back, you can hand the ball off or you can run play-action. If the defense can be thinking about all three of those things, hopefully that gives the offense an advantage.”

That’s the type of balance — and the type of advantage — the Broncos never achieved in 2011. With Kyle Orton under center in the season’s first five weeks, the running game struggled. When the Broncos made the switch to Tim Tebow, the running game flourished behind McCoy’s option spread, but the passing game nearly disappeared. Sure, the Tebow-led option offense kept defenders on their toes (that’s the very nature of the scheme), but it wasn’t the type of guessing where defenders had to worry about the deep ball very often.

Manning, McCoy, and John Fox are aiming for a healthy mix of run and pass in 2012.

“I think just the threat of (Manning) in the passing game—they’ll complement each other,” Fox said. “He has a real good ability to see the defense and make adjustments. A lot of it is what the defense gives you or takes away, and you adjust accordingly.”

“What you try to do is take what the defense is giving you,” said Manning. “If they’re dropping a bunch of guys, you certainly hope you could run the ball. If they’re putting them all up in there and giving you one-on-one matchups on the outside, you’ve got to be able to win those matchups.”

Whether the Broncos stay truly committed to the running game won’t be seen until the 2012 season is underway, but they’re certainly paying the idea lip service now.

“I really feel that’s going to be important to have that balance, and you never know how a certain game is going to turn into, if there’s going to be a shootout one game [or] if it’s one of those low-scoring games where you just keep pounding it on the ground,” Manning said. “We hope we can play any type of game.”

  • Jon

    I love the offseason.