Updated: December 19, 2012 at 12:00 am
ENGLEWOOD — For all of his God-given abilities, and that list is longer than Santa's, Knowshon Moreno has one gift that doesn't draw much attention.
He really knows how to make people mad.
This goes back to his early days at Georgia. Then, Moreno was a rare commodity in the college football world: A blue-chip recruit who pursued a redshirt as a true freshman. Instead of lighting it up on Saturdays, he toiled on the scout team.
"I remember one day in practice he’s running so hard, coaches had to pull some of the defensive guys off him," Tony Ball, then the Georgia running backs coach, said Wednesday. "The defensive guys were mad at him, because he was going too hard in practice.
"That was his nature."
Makes you mad, doesn’t it? Where was that Knowshon Moreno his first three years with the Broncos?
Given his unpredictable nature in Denver — both as a human and as a football player — this is a precarious stance to take.
But I'll take it: Now we are watching the real Knowshon Moreno. We are watching a legitimate, nothing-he-can’t do workhorse. We are watching a top-10 NFL running back.
I write that with great hesitancy. On Wednesday, Moreno was named AFC offensive player of the week — about one month after playing on the practice squad.
But even his position coach at Georgia is hesitant to state Moreno isn’t simply teasing us — again.
"I just hope that the light has come on. I’m telling you, everything you want in a running back, he has it,” Ball said. “He doesn’t have many football weaknesses other than his lack of professionalism at times. If he has started to approach the game as a professional, this is what you’ll get.
“I’ve really been kind of surprised at how it has not gone as well as I had envisioned it going for him with the Denver Broncos. I’ve been surprised, but because (of) how he was not approaching the league in a professional manner. I say that, (and) I believe in him. I know what kind of person he is. He’s a great person, a wonderful person.”
If Moreno has flipped the switch – it says here he has — no one would be more pleased than the team that drafted him of LeSean McCoy, Shonn Greene and Arian Foster in 2009.
There is not a Christmas-y way to sugarcoat it: The Broncos had lost faith in the No. 12 overall pick. After three blah seasons, an ACL injury and a DUI arrest, Moreno was relegated to the practice squad in Week 3 of his fourth.
The first-round pick was a first-class afterthought, a healthy inactive for eight games.
T'is the season, and Moreno’s tale doubles as a Christmas story: From relegation to redemption.
At Oakland, Moreno had 119 rushing yards. Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is gushing.
"It’s a great lesson about being a professional,” Manning said Wednesday.
At Baltimore, Moreno had 118 rushing yards. Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed was ducking.
"It’s just an instinct thing,” Moreno said of his tendency to hurdle defenders. “It just happens."
Knowing his NFL history, it seems too sudden to anoint the 25-year-old as a fixture in the future of the Broncos. Here’s why it is not. His was more of a maturity issue than a talent gap. His physical gifts — even the hurdling — are qualities that can’t be taught.
But Manning suggesting Moreno is the one to teach a lesson in professionalism? This says more than a 20-yard run up and over Ed Reed. The clincher for me came Wednesday when Moreno stood before the Broncos and expressed his appreciation for their support.
"I'm blessed to be a part of this team and with these great teammates I have, always by my side," Moreno said.
I believe two events ignited Moreno’s ascension. One, he admitted the practice-squad demotion humbled an athlete who had grown comfortable with the NFL lifestyle.
"If I wasn’t going to be playing on Sundays, I was going to give my all in practice,” Moreno said. "I was playing my role at the time and having faith that maybe down the road I would get my chance again.”
Two, the veteran locker room at Dove Valley gave him no chance but to grow up.
“I think Peyton Manning is huge for Knowshon,” Ball said.
The football field again is Moreno’s playpen.
For at least the next two years Moreno can benefit from the best quarterback he will ever play with. He can put up video game numbers, because that’s what Manning’s running backs do. He can make millions and headlines, like he couldn’t on either practice squad — the Dawgs' or the Broncos'.
Or he can party like a rock star, behave like an overpaid bust and find the quickest exit out of Denver.
Here’s a suggestion Moreno has seen the light and is running toward it.
No one would be mad at that.