In 2018, the shiny new toy in the Denver Broncos backfield was supposed to be rookie rusher Royce Freeman.
A third-round draft pick out of Oregon, Freeman was due to be the next top ball carrier for the Broncos. And by most standards, his rookie campaign – wherein he rushed for 521 yards and five touchdowns – was a strong effort for a first-year pro.
However, Royce’s 2018 season was hampered by lingering injuries and overshadowed by the emergence of undrafted running back Phillip Lindsay, who ended up starting eight games as a rookie, rushing for nine touchdown and 1,037 yards on the way to a Pro Bowl nod.
A few weeks ago, during a charity home run derby held at Coors Field, Freeman told 104.3 The Fan the next step for him in his sophomore season is to just “improve.”
“Last season, I feel I can work on. I always feel I can get better,” Freeman said. “But year two, establishing more comfort, establishing more familiarity with everything. Just working toward everything (to become) a better overall player.”
There’s no animosity among Freeman and his fellow Denver running backs. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They feed off each other, from the practice field to the film room.
“You know, iron sharpens iron. And it’s just like the friendly nature, that comfort that we have with each other, I think that’s what helps us grow, especially in the running back room,” Freeman said. “We have to trust each other that no matter who’s in the game the job’s going to get done.”
That collaboration is among the key ingredients for success in 2019 for Freeman, specifically working in tandem with Lindsay as a sort of lightning and thunder duo, said 104.3 The Fan’s Orlando Franklin this week.
“Phillip Lindsay always needs to be the leading carrier in this backfield because he’s the more dynamic person. When you talk about offense, you want to see the showcase of the talent and you want to have the fireworks,” Franklin said. “But when you look at a guy like Royce Freeman, he’s built to wear a defense down.
“He’s built to just go downhill. He’s going to be more physical at the point of attack than a Phillip Lindsay is going to be.”
Similarly, “Stokley and Zach” co-host Brandon Stokley said Denver needs to utilize Freeman in short yardage situations.
“We get down on the goal line, Royce Freeman time. Let’s go,” Stokley said. “So, he’s going to pick up some cheap touchdowns down there where Phillip, you’re out. We’ve got one yard to go. We made this mistake too many times last year. And this year, we’re going to go with our bruiser.”
“The Safety Blitz” host Nick Ferguson said success for the Broncos in 2019 doesn’t necessarily come down to Freeman’s performance, but the running back needs to play a complementary role in the Denver offense.
“One guy that can come in and dice up the defense with Phillip Lindsay,” Ferguson said, “and then you have another guy who’s your ground and pound guy, who can get those tough yards for you, but still has the opportunity to be your home run guy.”