Phillip Lindsay is ready for Monday night against Tennessee.
“Get me in the game right now and I’m going to break something,” he said.
Melvin Gordon is ready to go, too.
“They love to run the ball here and obviously, I love to run the ball as a running back so it works out,” he said.
But as the Broncos continue preparations for the Titans, the big questions of mid-March (when Gordon signed), late July (when players reported to camp) and mid-August (when practices began) remain unanswered.
Who will start the game? Who will get more playing time? Who will have more carries? Who will play on third down? Who will be asked to catch passes out of the backfield? Who will play in a two-minute situation?
Naturally, amid the hubbub, the Broncos’ coaches don’t think it’s an issue.
“I have a feeling they’re both going to be in there and hopefully an equal amount of time and have an impact obviously as runners and certainly in pass protection and catching the ball,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said before practice Friday. “They’ve displayed in camp sort of what I knew about them on tape.
“They’re multi-dimensional backs so we’re going to try and use them both. In my mind, it’s a good problem to have.”
Shurmur is certainly justified in embracing this good problem — being able to interchange between Gordon (1,058 carries and 224 catches in career) and Lindsay (416 carries and 70 catches).
“They’re two outstanding runners that both deserve to be a starter and that’s how I think of them,” Shurmur said. “Who plays the first snap? It doesn’t really matter.”
Having a two-headed running game isn’t foreign to the NFL in general or the Broncos in particular. This remains a super-physical game and the pounding tailbacks take means significant attrition. Only nine backs played at least 60% of their team’s snaps last year.
Since 2010, there have been 56 instances in which a team has two running backs with at least 125 carries. The Broncos, New York Jets and Tampa Bay lead with four such seasons.
What could help Lindsay and Gordon is a shared-duty set-up won’t be new. Lindsay teamed with Royce Freeman in 2018-19 and Gordon shared the work on the Chargers with Austin Ekeler. At this time last year, Lindsay was starting for the Broncos against the Raiders and Gordon was holding out, missing the first three games.
“I missed a lot of football last year and obviously I had a way shorter season than the rest of the league,” Gordon said. “All in all, I’m excited to get back out there and go from Day One. Football-wise, I’m excited to see what this game brings me this year.”
Gordon, 27, has carried at least 20 times in only 20 of his 67 regular-season games; Lindsay has reached 20 carries only once in 31 games. Thus, the need to sign Gordon even if the less expensive play would have been waiting for the draft.
But knowing he was building an offense around young quarterback Drew Lock, general manager John Elway was proactive, signing Gordon to a two-year, $16 million contract.
“I think this scheme is really built around what I excel at,” said Gordon, citing the presence of inside and outside zone plays.
Said Titans coach Mike Vrabel: “(Gordon) has a good combination of size and speed. (The Chargers) used him in previous years out of the backfield and threw him the ball and targeting him in the red zone.”
Consecutive 1,000-yard seasons wasn’t enough for Lindsay to earn a contract extension and he will be a restricted free agent in March.
“I can’t control putting myself in the game,” Lindsay said. “I don’t need 20 carries to get where I need to go. I’m going to be a spark player.”
Gordon, who battled a rib injury, and Lindsay looked sharp during training camp practices as both runners and receivers.
“They’re going to be putting crazy pressure (on defenses),” Broncos inside linebacker Alexander Johnson said. “They’re both athletic, both fast, both know how to read defenses, know how to cut. That’s a perfect lineup of running backs. You can bring them in and out and do all the different things with them.”
Dividing the carries
The Broncos are expected to divide the run-game duties between Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon. Since 2000, a rundown of the years in which they had two backs with at least 125 carries:
Year Player (attempts) Player (attempts)
2001 Mike Anderson (175) Terrell Davis (167)
2005 Anderson (239) Tatum Bell (173)
2006 Tatum Bell (233) Mike Bell (157)
2007 Travis Henry (167) Selvin Young (140)
2012 Willis McGahee (167) Knowshon Moreno (138)
2015 Ronnie Hillman (207) C.J. Anderson (152)
2018 Phillip Lindsay (192) Royce Freeman (130)
2019 Lindsay (224) Freeman (132)
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