Willis McGahee still going strong after 1,000-yard season in '11

There's conventional wisdom. And then there's Willis McGahee.

Take a poll of personnel people around the NFL about players who may have aged somewhat gracefully in a league that usually punishes its 30-something crowd with the threat of unemployment, and McGahee's name will inevitably come up.

After all, he led the league's No. 1 rushing team in rushing in 2011 at age 30. He also went to the Pro Bowl — as an injury replacement — to close out his ninth year in the league. And he has done all this having started his career as a Buffalo Bills rookie in 2003, one who had torn three ligaments in his left knee in his final college game.

Some in the league wondered at that point if McGahee would simply rebound enough to play, let alone play into the next decade.

And while much of the skepticism around the Broncos offensive fortunes have usually centered around the age (36) and the relative condition of the neck/arm of quarterback Peyton Manning, an offense with a primary runner who will also check in at 31 in mid-October will give the Broncos what may be the most senior quarterback-running back tandem in the league.

"I don't worry about all that," McGahee said. "I mean last year some people said I was slow. I've been saying I don't think I'm slow. I think I can beat half the guys on this team.

"Maybe this year people think I'm (too old). I always say you have to keep your calm. Don't worry about what people think. That's always my fuel. I use what people say against them. You tell me I can't do it; I will show you I can."

One of the larger questions in this training camp for the Broncos — they get back on the practice field at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday — is how an offense with a player like Manning throwing the ball will divvy up its rushing attempts with McGahee as the team's No. 1 option.

The depth chart still remains murky behind McGahee too, with Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball, Jeremiah Johnson and rookie Ronnie Hillman among others looking to carve out their spots. Hillman's draft status — a fourth-round pick by the Broncos last April — his explosiveness and his ability to catch the ball will likely make Hillman far more than a bit player when the games count.

But the Broncos have placed a significant bet on McGahee at an age when many running backs in the league's history have seen their performance take a steep dip. Broncos coach John Fox said throughout the offseason he hoped McGahee would have some help in the backfield.

There is some feeling in the Broncos' Dove Valley complex, as well as with some other personnel executives around the league, that the veteran's effectiveness may only increase if the Broncos can dial back his workload to somewhere in the 15-20, carries-per-game range rather than 25 or more.

"I think you want as many good (backs) as you can have," Fox said. "Willis has shown what kind of back he is; we love what Willis brings to our offense. In the end we want to be able to a lot of things that make it hard on a defense."

The Broncos will show their hand at least some in the backfield over the next two weeks. They will have a scrimmage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High that will offer some full-contact work up and down the depth chart. And in the team's preseason opener Aug. 9 in Chicago, the starters, like McGahee, are expected to get only limited work in the opening quarter.

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