Friday, August 15, 2008

Cowboys miss opportunity with thin Broncos' RB corps

The Associated Press

DENVER -- With the boom of thunder shaking the bubble roof overhead, Selvin Young took the handoff at the Denver Broncos' walkthrough in their indoor facility Friday and jogged around the right side when he tripped over his own feet.

"I just heard the thud," coach Mike Shanahan said. "Looks like he's OK."

It's been that kind of month for the Broncos' beleaguered backfield.

The Broncos, set to face the Dallas Cowboys in their preseason home opener Saturday night at Invesco Field, began training camp with high hopes of producing another diamond in the rough in their backfield, but rookie tailback Ryan Torain was lost for three months when he broke his left elbow when he somersaulted during 9-on-7 drills, putting a damper on the mood at Dove Valley.

Then, rookie Anthony Alridge pulled a hamstring late in the Broncos' fourth joint practice with the Cowboys on Thursday.

"It's just a little tweak," said Alridge, who hopes to play Saturday night.

"I'm not sure if he'll be able to play. But it's not a bad hamstring," said Shanahan, who went with a young backfield by waiving Travis Henry in the offseason.

With Torain out and Alridge questionable, the Broncos don't want to overwork starter Young, an undrafted free agent who led the team in rushing last year when Henry kept getting hurt, or even Andre Hall, a special teams stud who will share snaps with Young.

The Broncos could augment their tailback corps by moving veteran free-agent Michael Pittman from fullback, a spot he's never played before, back to his natural position at tailback.

With Torain out, there's no clear-cut favorite to carry the bulk of the load as the Broncos' backfield pecking order remains unsettled with two-a-days over.

"It's going to be like this all year," Hall said. "We're going to keep fighting. It might be Selvin one week. It might be me. Who knows, one week it might be Pittman. We'll just keep fighting week to week."

So, with all the injuries, is Hall ready for a 25-carry night?

"Give me 25," he said. "I'll take 25 and be more than happy with it."

No matter who's carrying the football, the Cowboys coaching staff is eager to see their front seven face Denver's zone blocking scheme that they don't see often during the season.

"It was good to practice against them because you're not used to the way they do it, which is a great way to do it. Obviously, they've done it that way for a long time," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said.

The four joint workouts this week were "real good for our defensive linemen," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones concurred. "The technique that we teach to them, if they do that technique against a team like this, the Denver offense will run them right off the field. So we have to literally get hooked, so to speak, and come on up the field."

The Cowboys' bigger priorities this weekend are to get quarterback Brad Johnson more time with the first string offensive line to get a better gauge on his ability to back up starter Tony Romo.

And they want to see marked improvement from their special teams.

Jones said he wants to see Adam "Pacman" Jones "touch the ball on some punt returns."

"We might let him return one or two," Phillips said, "depending on the situation."

Jones, who was traded from Tennessee last spring and who is seeking reinstatement from the NFL after a suspension kept him out all of last season, is still getting used to Dallas' defense. So, Phillips wants him to focus his energies on that for now.

"I just want him to get used to the defense and getting used to playing," Phillips said. "You know, he's a little rusty on defense, and we have two more preseason games that I'd like to see him return some, especially at home starting out."

This was the second straight summer that the Broncos and Cowboys had joint workouts in the days leading up to their preseason tilt, and both sides would like to make it an annual tradition.

"I'd like to see this continue," Jerry Jones said. "Mike Shanahan sees the benefit of it and we do, too. Mike initiated it because we were set up to play last year. I really like this playing Denver home and home because we are different styles and ... helps both teams."

Notes: DT Dewayne Robertson will make his Broncos debut Saturday night. "We'll probably only play him 10-12 plays," said Shanahan, who expects to play him more against Green Bay next week. ... Broncos S Hamza Abdullah, who has fallen behind Marquand Manuel on the depth chart during his two-week absence from a strained groin, hopes to play Saturday night despite being less than 100 percent. "I have to get myself ready for the opener," Abdullah said. ... Cowboys who won't play Saturday night include: DBs Quincy Butler, Terence Newman and Tyler Everett, LBs Anthony Spencer and Kevin Burnett and DE Marcus Dixon.