EDITOR'S NOTE: The following was the cover story in the Gameday program from Nov. 17, when the Broncos defeated the Chiefs 27-17.
When defenders catch up with running back
Always quick to his feet -- sometimes frustratingly quick for defenders – Moreno bounces back from tackles like they never happened.
When he found himself on the scout team last season, that didn’t keep him down very long either. After putting up more than 500 yards in the final six games of the 2012 season, he’s come out even stronger in 2013 and is second in the league in rushing scores.
“The thing he does that’s so unique is the way he plays is so intense that he goes after it like every play is his last play,” Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said earlier this season.
“He doesn’t take this game for granted. He really comes out there and gives everything he has for his teammates.”
Drafted 12th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, Moreno came to Denver after two seasons at the University of Georgia, where he was twice named first-team All-SEC. He looked to be making the transition from the college game to the NFL seamlessly in his rookie campaign.
He led the Broncos in rushing in his first season with 947 yards on 247 carries and he played in all 16 games. He scored seven touchdowns on the ground and added two more through the air. He led the team in rushing again in 2010 and pulled in a career high 37 catches, but an ACL injury shortened his 2011 season and the road back to becoming the Broncos’ leading rusher was not an easy one.
Moreno started the 2012 season behind Willis McGahee on the depth chart, but by Week 3 he was listed as inactive and stayed there until McGahee suffered a season-ending injury in Week 10 against the Chargers.
After eight weeks of scout team and special-teams duty in practice, Moreno was re-activated.
“I guess it did (motivate me) a little bit, but at the same time, it’s a business,” Moreno said of his inactive status. “Sometimes you can’t control everything that happens. You only can do what you can do just to make yourself better. At that time I was just trying to make the team better by doing special teams and doing scout work for the offense.
“I never got down or anything. I have some great teammates that had my back at all times.”
This season, just as he was in his first two professional seasons, Moreno is leading the Broncos in rushing and is a pivotal part of the most prolific offense in the NFL. He’s on pace to have the best season of his career as he has already set a new career high in touchdowns and had nearly 30 catches at the midpoint of the season.
But the individual numbers aren’t what stand out to him about being a part – an important part at that – of this 2013 Broncos’ squad.
“It’s just great to be a part of this team, not only on offense with the group we have but defensively, also,” he said. “Everyone is a family on this team. Going out on Sundays is kind of our reward for all the hard work we’ve put in throughout the whole week.”
Since taking over as the Broncos’ starter in Week 12 of 2012, Moreno ranks fifth among all running backs with 1,522 scrimmage yards and is tied for third with 12 touchdowns. In that span he is averaging 101.5 yards from scrimmage per game.
Not only is Moreno the Broncos’ the leading rusher, he’s also the most veteran running back on the team.
This year is Moreno’s fifth in the league, giving him more NFL experience than the three other running backs on the active roster combined. Through that experience he’s learned plenty of things that he’s been more than willing to share with the rest of the running back corps, just as he said he learned from Correll Buckhalter and McGahee in their respective stints in Denver.
“I guess whatever they ask me,” Moreno said of what he’s shared with the younger backs. “I’ve been in here for five years on the same team, been in the game for five years and different situations have happened to me – not playing or playing, injuries, this and that. So I know a little bit about the game and I’m still learning.
“If they ever have a question about anything, I’ll tell them.”
“He does a great job of really leading these running backs – especially the whole offense, just getting the ground game going,” Ball said. “We all feed off his energy. He’s a great person and a great leader to have on this side of the ball.”
While the young backs are learning from Moreno, he admitted that he’s still learning, too. As each week brings a new opponent, it also brings new things to pay attention to.
“There’s always something that you can learn and each week is different because each team that you play is different,” Moreno said. “So you have to learn different things, learn different keys and reading the defense.”
Moreno’s efforts so far in 2013 have him near the top of the league in touchdowns and he’s put together a pair of multi-score games including a three-touchdown game against Jacksonville. He’s having his best year with 37 receptions in addition to 521 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s just been extremely solid,” quarterback
It has been Moreno’s versatility that has earned him his time on the field this season. Not only has he been an efficient runner – picking up more than four yards per carry – and a viable target in the passing game, but he’s been a key factor in keeping Manning on his feet.
Moreno said that he learned the importance of pass protection in his time at Georgia.
“We worked on it a lot at Georgia,” Moreno said. “When I was at Georgia, I was protecting Matthew Stafford, you know what I mean? So it was kind of like the same thing – different level but the same thing. You want to keep that guy on his feet and let him do what he can do. When I got to the league, it was no different. A lot of guys can run the ball but it’s what else you can do – pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield.”
He’s proven those words true this season as he has established himself as a talented player in each facet of his game. And while his time on the field during his career has varied, one thing has remained the same – his attitude.
“Knowshon has been up and down in his career, but his attitude has been awesome,” Manning said. “I mean, at one point last season he was running some scout team and came on and played great for us. This year I think he thought he was potentially fighting for a roster spot. You just never know. But his attitude has been great. His mindset has been great, and that’s served him well.
“He has been a stud for us this first half of the season. We expect him to be even better the second half.”