How else do you explain Reuben Droughns rushing for 193 yards, 66 more than he gained in his entire five-year career, to lead the Denver Broncos to a win over Carolina? Mind you, Droughns is a running back that washed out in Detroit and Miami. Denver, which visits the Oakland Raiders Sunday in a crucial AFC West tilt, signed Droughns as a free agent to become a blocking fullback. Droughns, however, became the featured runner due to injuries to those ahead of him.
The Raiders (2-3) were have been hit hard by the running game the last two weeks and need to get that problem rectified or they will risk facing a bigger climb back into contention.
"He's a strong runner," Raiders inside linebacker Danny Clark said of Droughns. "He keeps his legs moving. He made some big plays last week. We definitely have to bring our ‘A' game. You have to be a darn good running back to run the ball. I know the scheme is good but I think the backs are good as well."
Should we be surprised that Droughns churned out a 100-yard effort? Not really. Many people might knock Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan because he has not won a playoff game without John Elway at quarterback or Terrell Davis at running back. Yes, that is true but you do not find players who other teams might overlook and get them to produce without having an eye for talent.
"It's a combination of everybody," Shanahan said. "I think Reuben did a great job of taking advantage of the opportunity. You've got to have everybody playing well. Wide receivers have to be blocking downfield, tight ends, fullbacks and obviously your offensive line has to play well."
Since Shanahan became Denver's head coach in 1995; the Broncos have rushed for more yards than any other team in the league. In seven of his nine previous seasons, the Broncos ranked among the top five rushing teams, and they were 10th and 12th in the other two seasons. Only one time in the Shanahan era, has Denver not produced a 1,000-yard rusher. Davis, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis produced 1,400-yard seasons while Olandis Gary had a 1,100 yard season. The Broncos have had nine different runners produce a 100-yard rushing game. Heck, Derek Loville of all people was one of them.
Much of Shanahan's reputation stems from his work with quarterbacks such as Elway and Steve Young but his ability to lead the way for strong ground game might say even more about him as an offensive mind.
In addition, the Broncos produce this rushing excellence behind one of the lighter offensive lines in the NFL. The size or running style of the backs seems to matter very little. While the NFL is a very transient league, the Broncos have been fortunate enough to have a few constants other than Shanahan. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, running backs coach Bobby Turner and center Tom Nalen, who was drafted a seventh-round draft pick of Denver a year before Shanahan came to Denver.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org