Before Denver's 20--17 victory over Carolina on Sunday, Reuben Droughns was just a workmanlike blocking fullback with a quick smile. He came out of that game looking like the next in a long line of productive Broncos running backs.
After carrying the ball a total of 80 times in 45 career games, Droughns got the call 30 times against the Panthers and ran for 193 yards, churning out tough yards on third down and helping Denver control the clock late in the game. His performance was reminiscent of games turned in by former Broncos runners like Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis--and was the kind of effort that an inconsistent ground attack sorely needed.
A fifth-year player out of Oregon who is with his third NFL organization, Droughns got his opportunity after backfield mate Quentin Griffin was sidelined with an ankle injury. Coach Mike Shanahan shifted the 5'11", 207pound Droughns to the running-back spot, instead of starting veteran Garrison Hearst or rookie Tatum Bell, because he liked Droughns's work ethic and open-field running ability. (Droughns averages 25.6 yards on kickoff returns.)
Taken by the Lions in the third round of the 2000 draft, Droughns spent his rookie season on injured reserve, was waived after playing one game the following year and was signed to the Dolphins' practice squad. Detroit re-signed him in October 2001, and he played in nine games. He joined the Broncos as a free agent in '02 and made four starts last season at fullback.
"Every running back wants to carry the ball," Droughns said after his big game on Sunday, "and it is just a dream to have this chance."