ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A lot, as in almost everything — including a new players lounge — has changed in the Denver Broncos’ offseason as first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett and his staff continue the team’s playbook makeover.
The meetings have a new look, practices have a new schedule and Hackett has continued to put his stamp on all that the Broncos will do on the field in the coming season.
One thing that will remain the same as 2021, however, is running backs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III, who will again split carries. Gordon’s return — with a one-year, incentive-laden deal announced two days before the NFL draft — was the desired outcome for the Broncos.
“We just want the best players,” said general manager George Paton. “Melvin is going to help us win football games. I think him and Javonte bring out the best in each other. You just can’t have enough good football players. He’s going to help us win games. We love Melvin in the locker room . We like his approach, his work ethic, and he’s a really good football player. We can’t have enough of those.”
No team in the league split its workload at running back last season with the precision the Broncos did. Williams and Gordon each finished with 203 carries, as Williams rushed for 903 yards and Gordon led the team in rushing with 918.
Gordon made no secret he liked Williams as well as his teammates in the Broncos’ locker room but remained unsigned as March turned to late April. Gordon said he wanted to see if opportunities for a larger workload were available.
Gordon returns to the Broncos knowing the team has big plans for Williams, who quarterback Russell Wilson said “jumped out” on the game video shortly after his arrival.
“Whatever [general manager] George [Paton] has planned, I’m ready,” Williams said just before the draft. “If I have to split carries, or if I’m the starter, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, I’m just trying to win the Super Bowl.”
Gordon’s return also shows the Broncos were not that enthused about the class of running backs in the draft. The Broncos did not use any of their nine picks on a running back and just one of the 13 undrafted rookies the team initially reached an agreement with this past weekend was a running back.
“It was pretty simple,” Paton said. “Melvin is a really good football player.”
With Wilson at quarterback the Broncos aren’t looking to be a run-first affair, but the play-action component in the passing game is important, as is protecting Wilson. Williams is expected to take slightly more carries this season, but Hackett has promised to keep the running backs busy, and there will be carries available.
In Hackett’s three seasons as the Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator, Aaron Jones topped 200 carries twice — 236 in 2019 and 201 in 2020 as Jamaal Williams had 107 and 119 carries, respectively, in those years. Last season, when Jones missed two games in the regular season, AJ Dillon led the team with 187 carries while Jones had 171.
Hackett has said in recent weeks that running back Mike Boone will have at least some role in the offense as well. Boone signed with the Broncos in free agency last year, but after a thigh injury in training camp he never carved out a role.
Boone didn’t appear in a game until Week 6, played in eight games overall and finished with just four carries.
“I just look all throughout my past, you need to have a stable of running backs,” Hackett said. “You want to hand the ball off, that’s what protects the quarterback, that’s what helps the play pass, that’s what helps the threat of being able to go downfield. You have two guys like that, and then you throw [Mike] Boone in there, that’s another change-up guy. It’s a really good group. … Whoever’s hot — that’s who we want to feed. That’s kind of the beauty of it.”