Many were caught off guard when Knowshon Moreno, not Ronnie Hillman, started for the Broncos in place of Willis McGahee in Week 12. Not only did Moreno start, he had 24 touches for 111 yards, compared to Hillman’s three carries for nine yards.
Moreno, who had been inactive since Week Two, a game in which he lost a fumble, impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic. The former first-round pick had been criticized for not having that kind of effort earlier in his career, but with Denver drafting Hillman and having McGahee as the clear top tailback, Moreno didn't have to look far for motivation to remain in the fold.
The way we hear it, observers weren’t too surprised that Moreno got the nod — he had been practicing well as the scout-team back, we’re told — but were surprised he got as many touches as he did, a result of head coach John Fox sticking with the hot hand. Another explanation for Moreno’s hiatus was that the Broncos wanted him to get healthier after a torn ACL suffered last season.
“(Moreno) deserves a lot of credit for all the hard work he’s put in throughout all offseason coming back from his surgery and everything,” offensive coordinator Mike McCoy told reporters on Thursday.
Two advantages Moreno has over the rookie Hillman is his experience and pass protection, something McCoy lauded earlier in the season. Moreno, Hillman and Lance Ball give the Broncos some flexibility, and the resurgence of Moreno in his first game helped stave off a potential drop-off in the run game after McGahee’s injury.