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Broncos and New Coach Fox Going Back to the Ground Game in 2011

Denver’s defenders weren’t the only ones who were pleased when the Broncos hired coach John Fox to replace Josh McDaniels.

Fox is known as much for his commitment to the ground game as he is for his defensive roots, and that has the Broncos’ running backs, quarterbacks, offensive linemen, tight ends and even wide receivers smiling.

That emphasis on a power running approach has been missing in Denver since Mike Shanahan’s famed zone-blocking scheme and agile linemen regularly churned out 1,000-yard rushers.

Quarterback Kyle Orton and his offensive lineman are embracing Fox’s run-heavy philosophy, saying it will make the passing game more proficient, keep teams from blitzing so often, augment the play-action and provide more productivity in the red zone.

It will also help out Denver’s defense, which ranked last in many categories last season because it was on the field so much.

The Broncos ran just 39 percent of the time last season after McDaniels traded away battering ram Peyton Hillis to the Cleveland Browns and rushed rookie linemen Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton into the starting lineup.

Fox plans a more balanced attack with the additions of 330-pound rookie right tackle Orlando Franklin and free agent running back Willis McGahee, who will share snaps with a slimmed-down Knowshon Moreno.

“It’s the essence of football, I think, being able to run the ball and the mindset it takes to run the ball and stopping a run defensively,” Fox said. “I think it defines your team. A lot of it is pad level and just the tenacity to keep grinding. It’s kind of like body blows in a heavy weight fight; they take their toll later in the fight or later in the game, and you won’t see the results on them early, but they show their ugly head later.”

The Broncos have held run-heavy practices all week as they prepare for their second preseason game Saturday night against Buffalo The linemen have been let loose, the wide receivers and tight ends are blocking downfield and the usually stoic Orton is actually cracking a smile.

Nobody’s happier about this dramatic shift in philosophy than the man who was sacked 34 times last season before finally being sidelined for the final three games with a rib injury.

Running more “helps you in the key situations, red zone, third down,” Orton said. “Obviously, if you can hand the ball off on third-and-4, rather than getting all these crazy blitzes and coverages, it’s going to help the whole offense.”

Orton said the Broncos got “everybody’s toughest look to pass” in coverages last season. And yet, he still threw for 3,654 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Right guard Chris Kuper said it was difficult to pick up blitzers late in pass protection last year because opponents sent smaller, quicker defenders from all over the field.

And with no real ground game to speak of, the Broncos usually bogged down in the red zone with their play-action getting no respect.

“We want to be a multitask offense,” Orton said.

He said the wide receivers have also embraced the new balance.

“I think the good thing is the receivers have taken a lot of ownership in blocking. I think they realize how much easier it’s going to make their life if we can get single safety looks to throw the ball into,” Orton said. “The whole offense has embraced that and taken ownership in it.”

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