Moreno: From doghouse to go-to Bronco

Making the most of second chances: Denver running back Knowshon Moreno, who grew up at the Jersey Shore, jukes a Patriot. He has overcome a hardscrabble past and is resurrecting his career.
Making the most of second chances: Denver running back Knowshon Moreno, who grew up at the Jersey Shore, jukes a Patriot. He has overcome a hardscrabble past and is resurrecting his career. (AP)
Posted: January 29, 2014

JERSEY CITY, N.J. - "Knowshon sucks."

LeSean McCoy put that post on Twitter when a media member lauded Knowshon Moreno's performance against the Cowboys on Oct. 6.

Moreno caught wind of the Eagles running back's critique a few hours after the Broncos outlasted Dallas, 51-48, and responded, via Twitter: "Glad [McCoy] was watching our game tonight. Great team win. Let's keep rolling. #5-0 #LetHatersHate #ShotsWereFiredButNoOneGotHit."

Moreno was already in the midst of a comeback season, but he finished the final 11 games - rushing for 224 yards against the Patriots - with authority. So the question posed to the Broncos running back, upon the return to his home state and six days before the Super Bowl, was if he used McCoy's criticism as motivation.

"Not at all," Moreno said Monday. "I'm always focused on this team. That's all that matters at the end of the day. Everyone has their own opinion about teams, about different individuals. It is what it is."

Moreno was selected in the first round of the 2009 draft, 41 spots ahead of McCoy, who has made it no secret that he has used this perceived slight as motivation. Two other running backs - Donald Brown and Beanie Wells - were also chosen before McCoy. So there's that.

But did Moreno have any idea why McCoy, who had lavished praise on Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, and other running backs this season, publicly derided him?

"No, like I said, I'm always focused about this team," said Moreno, who eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his NFL career. "So you'll have to ask him, I guess."

A few days after his Twitter post, McCoy was asked the same question. "I don't want to talk about the past," he said. "It is what it is. What I said is what I meant." But a source close to McCoy said that his animosity toward Moreno stemmed from their interaction at the NFL scouting combine before the draft.

Whatever occurred between the two, Moreno has resurrected his career when a year ago McCoy's diss may have had more supporters.

"The thing with Knowshon, the thing he's really improved, is his accountability and dependability," Broncos coach John Fox said. He added: "He's done a tremendous job, and he is maybe one of our most improved players this past season."

After three seasons in which his rushing numbers declined along with his dependability, Moreno was benched by Fox when he fumbled in a Falcons loss in Week 2 of last season. He was inactive for the next eight games.

Moreno, who will be a free agent after this season, said he never thought that his days in Denver were winding down, even when he stood out of uniform on the sideline.

"I still thought in my heart that I'm still part of this team and have to help this team out in some way," Moreno said. "My role was not to be playing on Sundays. Wednesday was my Sunday, Thursday was my Sunday when I was out there on the scout team trying to make the defense better."

When Moreno returned in Game 11, he produced, rushing for 510 yards in the final six games of the regular season. Still, when training camp rolled around the following July, he was third on the depth chart behind Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman.

The Broncos send their offensive skill-position players onto the field in waves, so Moreno was likely going to be a part of the offense this season. But as he cut down on fumbles and improved his pass protection, he saw more playing time.

In his first four games, Moreno averaged 11.5 carries. In the final 12, starting with the Cowboys game when he rushed for 93 yards on 19 carries, he averaged 16.3.

And quarterback Peyton Manning targeted him more often. Moreno caught just two passes per game in the first four games and averaged 4.3 in the final 12.

He became the reliable, multifaceted running back the Broncos thought they had drafted out of Georgia. After fumbling seven times in the first 36 games of his career, Moreno fumbled only once over the next 25 - after Fox's benching.

"When you're holding that ball in your hand, everyone's lives is in your hands, everyone's job is in your hands," Moreno said. "And that's how it took. Just thinking about it more . . . and just having that mind-set, 'I'm going to protect this.' What's another two yards, especially if you fumble?"

Manning, too, came to rely on Moreno, especially considering how often the Broncos need their tailbacks to pass-protect.

"We are in the shotgun a lot," Manning said. "I just feel very comfortable with No. 27 standing next to me."

It's been a long road for the 26-year-old Moreno - from the Bronx to Belford, N.J., back to his home state. He grew up in poverty, lived in homeless shelters with his father before his grandmother won custody and moved him to the Jersey Shore.

The travails didn't end there, of course. He was charged with DUI in 2012. The career arch was steeply curving downward. But something clicked, Fox said, and he's seen a maturing Moreno.

"These are young people; young, rich, and famous people for the most part - not a great combination for success without some responsibility and accountability," Fox said. "I understand decisions bring consequences. I've seen a tremendous amount of growth."

That maturity was evident in the way he handled the adversity of his upbringing, his near release from the Broncos, and McCoy's comments.

"Everyone goes through different things," Moreno said. "It's how you battle back from that and see the positive in all the negative. I think I did a good job of that."


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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