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McGahee ready to team with Moreno in Broncos' backfield

DENVER -- New Broncos coach John Fox used a two running back system during his later days with the Carolina Panthers, with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart sharing the backfield duties.

Now that Denver has signed Willis McGahee to a free-agent contract to join incumbent starter Knowshon Moreno, there could a similar approach -- with a twist.

"We're not going to be like DeAngelo and Stewart -- 'Smash and Dash,'" McGahee said Sunday, after he watched his new team practice while wearing No. 23.

"We're going to make it different. We're going to be 'Stallions and Broncos' out here, doing it," he added. "I hope that's right -- Stallions and Broncos. Those are both horses, right?"

That's perhaps the wrong question.

It's whether McGahee and Moreno can be a couple of workhorses.

Fox wants to jump-start a Denver offense that ranked No. 26 in rushing last season at 96.5 yards per game and No. 27 with only 24.9 carries and installing a physical, pounding ground presence.

Adding the 235-pound McGahee may be a good step in that direction.

He's had 1,541 carries for 6,167 yards since he was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills in 2004.

McGahee didn't play his rookie season while recovering from a severe knee injury suffered in his final college game. But since 2004, he ranks third in the NFL behind only LaDainian Tomlinson (107) and Thomas Jones (56) with 55 rushing touchdowns.

McGahee spent four seasons with both the Bills (2003-06) and four more with the Baltimore Ravens (2007-10), complementing Ray Rice in another two-tier rushing game.

"Contrary to what people might say, it's no indictment on Knowshon," Fox said of adding McGahee to the running back group. "If you've followed my coaching history ... I believe you have to have two backs to have a successful run team, just to keep them fresh and energized to get through 16 games running as much as we want to run it."

Moreno, Denver's No. 12 overall pick in 2009, has had so-so results in his two seasons as the Broncos' featured back. During that time, Moreno has only five runs of 20-plus yards and experienced several nagging injuries.

But Moreno has responded by reporting to camp in good shape and promised earlier in the week that fans will see the best of him this season.

Adding McGahee could help Moreno.

"We feel we have really good competition for all the spots at running back and we're just going to let them compete throughout the next four weeks," Broncos general manager Brian Xanders said.

"We're excited about Knowshon. He's in great shape. He looks quick and explosive. His hands are excellent. He's a different running style than McGahee ... and can pound it but has surprising long speed to take it to the house. He's had some big runs the last two years."

Baltimore nevertheless opted to cut McGahee rather than pay $6 million to its primary backup.

McGahee, who will turn 30 this season, couldn't have asked for a smoother transition than in Denver. His former Bills position coach Eric Studesville oversees the Broncos running backs, which aside from the opportunity for playing time was a relationship that was tantamount in McGahee's decision to come to the Mile High city.

"He's probably the only coach that knows me," McGahee said. "He knows what I can do and what I can't do. He knows my attitude and knows how I'm going to prepare for the game. It's like a welcome home."

Studesville maintained he saw many of the same on-field traits during film study of free agents in McGahee's time with the Ravens as he recalled viewing while the two were together in Buffalo. The running back had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2004-05 and 990 yards in 2006 under Studesville.

"We still think he's got something left," the assistant coach said. "He's a big physical back who can run the ball. He's got really good hands in my experience with him and you still see that. . He loves being on the football field and is an incredibly competitive guy. I like that aspect he brings to the room."

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, McGahee will have to watch until finally being allowed to take the field Aug. 4.

McGahee said he'll be ready.

"I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been since coming into the league," he said.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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