The Broncos' new workhorse

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! SportsSeptember 13, 2004

If you were surprised Sunday when someone looking like Barry Sanders started putting up Clinton Portis numbers (154 yards, three touchdowns) to lead the Denver Broncos to a 34-24 victory over Kansas City, it was understandable.

After all, Portis is in Washington now, isn't he? And Sanders is in Canton, correct?

So this guy – this, this darting, dashing Quentin Griffin – well, who the heck is he? The Broncos' media guide didn't offer much: second-year back out of Oklahoma, just 5-foot-7, only 354 career yards.

When he started busting touchdown runs of 47 and 25 yards, who wouldn't be surprised?

"Well, I wasn't," said Daryl Wade, athletic director in Aldine, Texas, where Griffin played high school ball. "Not at all."

It turns out that anyone who knows Griffin – be it from growing up outside Houston, his prep glory at Nimitz High School or his storybook career at Oklahoma – was not surprised by any of it.

They always knew he could be this good. They figured once he got an NFL starting job he wouldn't give it back. They even suspected that it wouldn't take more than a couple Griffin spin moves before Portis was, if not forgotten by Broncos fans, at least no longer longed for in Denver.

"He does things that are just unbelievable," said Wade on Monday, "but he does them quietly."

This is apparently Griffin's M.O. Last year, he sat quietly behind Portis and never stopped working as his teammate ran for more than 1,500 yards. Griffin got his reps in, did his best and was the good soldier.

And then, when Denver traded Portis to Washington for cornerback Champ Bailey, a move that caused angst and second-guessing throughout the Rockies, Griffin took the ball and exploded on the scene.

At Oklahoma, he was supposed to redshirt his freshman year. But when backfield starters got injured, he took the ball and didn't give it back for 3½ seasons, an OU national title and a spot near the top of every Sooners career rushing category.

Even in high school, he always had to share playing time because Nimitz High is a powerhouse that routinely produces NFL players, including the Chiefs' Dante Hall. During his senior season, Griffin had to split duties with another back headed to Texas A&M.

When you are only 5-7 and don't talk much – he is more likely to flip the ball to a referee after a touchdown than wear a world's-greatest-running-back belt on the sideline – you become easy to overlook. Despite all those numbers at OU, Griffin was a fourth-round pick in the 2003 draft.

"He's only a little guy," said Wade, "but he gets the job done. I knew if they just gave him a chance to be the starter, he'd do the job."

Portis, of course, is still amazing. The ex-Bronco rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown in the Redskins' victory over Tampa Bay. But if this is what Griffin can do, then Denver looks like a genius. The Broncos improved their defense (Bailey had an interception) and kept a great running game.

"He really stepped up," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "It is nice to see Quentin come in and play at that level. It didn't really surprise me, but anytime you go into a first game it is always nice to see a guy step up."

More than just being productive, Griffin was dazzling. "In this offense you can find those cutback holes," he explained. His low, crouching style and quick changes of direction are out of the Sanders mold. And while he may not be big, he proved he could take a pop and jump right back up.

"What can you say?" teammate Kelly Herndon said. "He's got those Barry Sanders moves. We expected this. We know how Quentin runs the ball and he showed that."

Wade has known Griffin since the Broncos' tailback was in middle school. He says Griffin has always been a quiet, selfless person. So, just as the old AD wasn't surprised by the blurring moves on his television Sunday, Wade chuckled at the humble postgame comments.

"I'm not sure I'll have 100 yards every game," Griffin warned.

"That's Quentin," Wade laughed. "He hasn't changed a bit."

The Broncos hope he won't start now.