Battered Broncos shore up backfield
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. ” Next in line in the Denver Broncos’ battered backfield is free agent Alex Haynes, who signed with the team Monday after rookie Ryan Torain was placed on injured reserve.
“I’ve been blessed. A lot of guys out on the streets that are pretty good running backs and I had an opportunity to come in and work out. I guess I impressed them,” Haynes said.
Blessed? The Broncos seem to have been cursed in the backfield this season, losing all four of their tailbacks to injuries.
Torain is the team’s third tailback lost for the season in the last week. Michael Pittman (spinal cord) and Andre Hall (hand) were placed on IR last week, joining Anthony Alridge (leg), who was hurt in the preseason.
Torain tore his left ACL in Denver’s 34-30 win at Cleveland on Thursday night. Making his first NFL start after missing the first half of the season with a fractured elbow, Torain gained 68 yards on 12 carries and scored a touchdown before getting hurt during an awkward tackle in the second quarter.
Selvin Young replaced him but quickly aggravated a torn groin that had sidelined him since Oct. 5.
That left rookie fullback Peyton Hillis as the Broncos’ only option in the backfield because recently promoted running back P.J. Pope was deactivated against the Browns.
Haynes is a second-year player who was waived by the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 30. He signed with Baltimore as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Central Florida in 2005 and has been on the rosters of the Ravens (’05, ’08) and Carolina Panthers (2005-07) before signing with Denver.
“He’s played both halfback and fullback,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “We’re looking at him at the halfback position. He got a chance to get a little feel for our offense today.”
Pope is a step ahead of Haynes, however, even though he hasn’t carried once for the Broncos.
“He’s familiar with our offense. He’s a little ahead of Alex just because he knows what he’s doing,” Shanahan said.
And Shanahan acknowledged some ongoing concern for his reinforcement running backs because they’re coming in midseason.
“It’s always tough when guys have been out because you’re not sure if they’re in football shape,” Shanahan said. “You get a chance here to see if they’ve been staying in shape or how far out of shape they’re in. You get a chance to see if they’re familiar with our terminology and those type of things. It’s a learning process on both sides.”
Haynes appeared in nine games for the Panthers last season, rushing three times for 3 yards and catching three passes for 15 yards. He also had a smattering of tackles on special teams. He spent the 2006 season on Carolina’s practice squad after competing in NFL Europe.
Haynes, who rushed for a school-best 3,356 yards and 27 touchdowns at Central Florida, said he has no feel for whether he’ll get the call Sunday when the battered Broncos (5-4) travel to Atlanta (6-3).
“I’m going to go out there and work hard and do everything they ask me to do,” he said. “If the opportunity comes, I will go and grab it.”
Haynes knows he has his work cut out for him after not playing in since the summer.
“It’s pretty hard. No matter how much you run it never compares to football, actually being on the field and hitting and tackling and running and blocking,” he said. “Sometimes you get overloaded with information, got to learn special teams and wherever they want you to play on offense. It could be pretty challenging.”
Haynes said he had his eye on the Broncos as their running backs kept dropping.
“I knew they had running back injuries. I was home watching the game Thursday, they had a guy go down and I was blessed with a call to come out for a workout,” Haynes said.
He hasn’t been hit in three weeks, but on the other hand, he has fresh legs.
“Just run and lift weights. That’s all I can really do,” Haynes said of his workouts between contracts. “I can’t go out and hit nobody because I don’t have any pads, so basically go out there and run to stay in shape and just stay on top of the football. I’ve been watching the Broncos.
“Every running back dreams of being in the Broncos system and have an opportunity to play.”
Count Pope and Hillis in that group.
Pope, who had been running with the scout team, got plenty of handoffs with the first-string offense Monday.
“It’s a chance I can prove I can play in this league,” Pope said. “It’s unfortunate, but at the same time, the season continues. You can’t dwell on it. I’ve got to be ready.”
Hillis was the emergency fill-in when Torain and Young went down last week, and he carried eight times for 24 yards, including a crucial fourth-and-1 conversion on the game-winning drive.
Known more for his blocking at Arkansas for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, he’d love to get the bulk of the hand-offs against the Falcons.
“I feel really confident about it and I’m really excited about it,” he said. “I feel like a lot of people have faith in me, a lot of confidence in me. That’s all a guy needs sometimes.”
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Prior to starting his trek across U.S., Larkins had never run more than a marathon and had never been to Colorado