High school coach survived
Only seven Denver Broncos rookies in recorded history ever exceeded 1,000 yards from scrimmage during their inaugural NFL year.
The breakout Broncos running back carried — pun intended — his squad to victory Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, totaling 19 rushes for 157 yards and two touchdowns. He also chipped in one reception for two yards, becoming the eighth Broncos first-year player to eclipse 1K in a single season.
One week after setting Denver’s undrafted rookie record, and entrenched as the team’s workhorse, surpassing Royce Freeman, Lindsay received a game ball for his contributions amid a crucial AFC win, as well as a verbal pat on the back from head coach Vance Joseph.
“I think you judge lead backs by their durability,” Joseph said after the 24-10 win. “He’s available every week. It seems like everyone sees his physical size and they’re amazed of what he’s doing right now. He’s a tough guy. He’s fast through the hole, so he successfully avoids contact through the first line of defense, which is important. Also, our (offensive) line is blocking well. His ability to get to the second level with speed is impressive. It’s hard to tackle a back like that when he’s not touched on the first level. His maturity and mentality each week has been very impressive.”
Able to thrive between the tackles despite his diminutive frame, Lindsay’s highlight-reel run was a 65-yard housecall in which he simply outraced the opposition. Asked about it in his post-game press conference, he humbly deferred praise to strength and conditioning coach Loren Landow and his offensive line, which also received a game ball.
“I give a lot of credit to (Strength and Conditioning) Coach Loren Landow,” he said. “Before he was my strength coach with the Denver Broncos, he was my coach for prepping for the combine and pro day. He got me healthier, and he got me more explosive and back to myself. When I was at the University of Colorado, I was banged up, beat up. By this time of the year we were done, but you just kind of miss opportunities. But when you’ve got people like Garrett Boles running people off the line — he was chasing them (laughs) — it works well.”
With 937 rushing yards and averaging over six yards-per-tote across 12 appearances, Lindsay is shouldering the weight of both Denver’s offense and the club’s playoff hopes. In doing so, he’s established as a legitimate Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate and likely will eclipse Dominic Rhodes for the NFL single-season UDFA rushing record.
He’s getting better as the calendar turns, and there’s no coincidence as to why the Broncos are now back to .500, having pulled off their third straight triumph.
“I told you all before, it’s a mindset,” Lindsay said. “(Running backs coach) Curtis Modkins, he took Royce (Freeman) and I into a room and just described and explained that there’s no such thing as a rookie wall, it’s just how you guys act, it’s how you guys prepare, and it’s how you guys treat your bodies. When you’re trying to win games and get into the playoffs, you don’t have time for a rookie wall. Everybody has your back.”
Denver Broncos rookie running back Royce Freeman was rolling until an ankle injury sidelined him. Will he return to form soon?
Star player Royce Freeman.
The Denver Broncos’ stellar rookie class includes not just one but two awesome running backs in Phillip Lindsay (the team’s leading rusher) and Royce Freeman.
Freeman was a high third-round draft choice after four productive years with the Oregon Ducks in which he established himself as one of the best running backs in all of college football.
He wasted no time making an impact and impression on the Denver Broncos, earning the top running back position on the team out of training camp and the preseason and proving himself to be a touchdown machine.
In nine games so far this season, Freeman has five touchdowns, all five coming in different games.
He’s only played in nine of the Broncos’ 11 games this season because he suffered an ankle injury in the team’s Thursday Night Football domination of the Arizona Cardinals.
Freeman only missed two games but ended up out of action for about a calendar month as the Broncos had their bye week while he was out.
Since returning from injury, Freeman has 13 total carries and is averaging about three yards per clip. It’s not that he looks horrible, but the explosiveness he had in the early portion of the season has been missing the past couple of games, and that could be a result of his ankle injury.
If the Broncos are going to continue making a run this season, they are going to need Freeman to get back to form quickly.
Phillip Lindsay could probably absorb some more of the workload offensively, but he’s been so efficient with his touches, the ideal scenario would be for Freeman to step up and be able to get back to his 8-12 carries per game and get that average up between 4.5-5.0 yards per touch.
Freeman obviously specializes in short-yardage situations with his vision, quick feet, and powerful legs, but he’s also a phenomenal first-down runner. The Broncos need that 1-2 punch with Lindsay and Freeman to return to the form they showed in week four of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs.
After two sub-par outings for Freeman’s standards, it seems likely we could see a resurgence in week 13 against the 32nd ranked defense in the NFL in Cincinnati.
Royce Freeman’s durability as a college running back was never in doubt.
Oregon played 53 games between 2014-’17. Freeman appeared in 51. And, he never missed consecutive games in one season. It’s what made recent events so difficult for Freeman, who sustained an ankle injury in Denver’s Week 7 victory against Arizona and has missed the past two games.
“I try to miss as little time as possible, but things happen and I take it upon myself to get back as quickly as I can,” Freeman said. “But you miss it so much, especially when you’re out.”
It appears his football hiatus is nearing an end, however. Freeman returned to practice Wednesday as a limited participant and head coach Vance Joseph is optimistic he’ll be ready to play Sunday at the Chargers.
“(Freeman) looked OK. It wasn’t perfect, but he wants to be out there,” Joseph said. “If I’m a betting man, I’ll bet on Royce that he plays Sunday.”
Added Freeman: “I always listen to the (medical) staff and what they have for me. They’ve done a great job of helping me get back to where I am.”
Broncos’ undrafted free agent running back Phillip Lindsay‘s role grew with Freeman’s absence. In losses at Kansas City and versus Houston, Lindsay carried 35 times for 155 yards and one touchdown. Third-down back Devontae Booker also stepped in with 93 yards on the ground including a long scoring scamper against the Chiefs. While not stagnant without Freeman, his addition to the Denver backfield provides a wealth of positives.
“It helps (offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave) with his play calling because Royce has his specialties that he’s really good at,” Joseph said. “It keeps the defense off-balance when you have a runner like Royce and a guy like Phillip who can be in the backfield or flex out of the backfield.”
The Broncos’ rushing offense ranked No. 10 overall in the NFL with Freeman through his first seven games (124.2). It didn’t slip in his absence, jumping to ninth with a 2-yard increase. Lindsay nevertheless looks forward to once again sharing the backfield with his fellow rookie.
“For one, it’s going to help us all stay healthier,” Lindsay said. “Two, it brings a different element. He’s a bigger dude. I’ll take pressure off of him and he’ll take pressure off of me — and we can keep things rolling.”
The Chargers are vulnerable to big ground gains with their four previous opponents all eclipsing 100 yards rushing. Freeman spent the past three weeks, including the bye, serving as another pair of eyes in film breakdowns with teammates. He lauded Lindsay’s performance: “He’s capable of everything on the field. I think that’s what makes him so dynamic. He’s not just a one-trick pony.”
But Freeman’s always-churning legs don’t take kindly to extended in-season rest. A California comeback sure sounds sweet.
“Being able to practice is definitely something that was very exciting,” he said. “I was looking forward to it all week.”
Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman suffered a sprained ankle during Thursday night’s 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals and “could miss some time,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport followed up by reporting Freeman’s injury is a high ankle sprain. Rapoport noted there is optimism that the Broncos rookie will only endure a short absence or possibly none at all, depending on the results of an MRI.
Freeman had 13 carries for 37 yards and one score, giving him 309 yards and four touchdowns on 71 carries through the first seven games of his NFL career.
The 6’0″, 229-pounder managed to stay relatively healthy throughout his career at Oregon. He played in at least 11 games in each of his four years and carried the ball an average of 237 times per season. He did, however, suffer a knee injury in 2016 and had a shoulder problem last season.
Freeman impressed during his first month as a pro, and Broncos head coach Vance Joseph made it clear he wanted to get the rookie more involved in the offense.
“I’m looking forward to getting [Freeman] more touches,” Joseph said after Week 4, according to the Denver Post’s Kyle Fredrickson. “He needs more opportunities because he is playing good football.”
Freeman’s size, speed, physicality and skills make him dangerous, and Denver took him in the third round with the hopes he could take pressure off the passing game.
As Gina Mizell of the Denver Post wrote, general manager John Elway dubbed Freeman a “big banger,” and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was impressed with his “eye-popping production.”
Both Freeman and fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay have shown potential in the early portion of their NFL careers. Lindsay will take on a bigger workload should Freeman miss time, perhaps giving him a chance to establish himself as the top back in Denver.
The Broncos will be back in action Oct. 28, when they take on the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC West battle.
The Broncos utilized the formation four times Sunday against the Jets, and suddenly, their offense featured one of the NFL’s top rushing duos in the same set: Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman.
The breakout rookie running backs combine to average 5.5-yards per carry, and 578 overall — fourth-most among NFL teammates through five weeks — as the seemingly perfect mix of physicality (Freeman) and finesse (Lindsay). Their presence together in one backfield is enough to keep plenty of NFL defensive coordinators up at night.
“It’s meant to put stress on people because you don’t know who is supposed to get the ball,” Lindsay said.
Added Freeman: “The possibilities are even higher for what we could run and being creative.”
Then why did Denver’s ground game get throttled back over their recent three-game slide? From offensive balance in wins against Seattle and Oakland to start the year — 74 passes (.55) to 60 rushes (.45) — to a more pass-heavy approach in losses to the Ravens, Chiefs and Jets — 118 passes (.65) to 63 rushes (.35).
The Broncos trailed Baltimore by 13 points with six minutes left and New York by 24 points with five minutes to go. Defenses adjusted and the Broncos’ offense sputtered when forced to air it out. Quarterback Case Keenum touts a lackluster 78.1-passer rating, No. 30 league-wide, and much of of his production has come late in games — throwing 67-of-192 overall passes (34 percent) in fourth-quarter comeback efforts.
“We don’t go into the game counting runs. We actually take what they give us,” coach Vance Joseph said. “If they’re playing single-high (safety) defense versus our receivers, that’s the time to throw the football. We can’t run the ball into a loaded box all game, especially when you’re down by that many points. That dictates kind of how the play calls are handled. Obviously, when they’re playing shell and when they’re playing cover-two, we hand the ball off.”
It has left Lindsay and Freeman powerless to develop rushing rhythm when tiring defenders are most vulnerable to giving up chunk yardage. The key? Preventing it from impacting their psyche.
“Every game is a different story,” Freeman said. “I just try to do the best with what I’m presented with — and I think that’s for everybody. You can’t worry about those things. You have to go out there and control what you can control.”
Lindsay put it bluntly: “We’re not going to sit here and make it about us. It’s not about us. It’s about winning.”
Winning teams find creative ways to utilize their best players. The introduction of the Freeman-Lindsay package, what Joseph called “20 Pony,” is perhaps a step in the right direction. On two of Denver’s four snaps in the set, Lindsay hit on rushes of 29 and 7 yards.
“You hope to get a shell defense, which we got, and we handed the ball off twice and got some big plays,” Joseph said. “Then when they close the middle, you can throw it and move Lindsay out of the backfield as a fourth receiver option. It’s purely scheme.”
A well-rounded offense supported by a staunch defense, two team facets Denver lacks, would give it authority to impose offensive will as opposed to continually taking only what defenses will allow. Until then, Freeman and Lindsay will wait patiently for their time to shine.
Two rookies, sometimes in the same backfield, with something to prove.
“Hopefully, we come up with more packages like that,” Lindsay said. “We’ve just got to play our part.”