For Broncos, Torain's time is now

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Coming off a rushing effort in which they compiled 14 yards (the second lowest in team history) Sunday against Miami, the Broncos have to replace half of their running back crew.

Denver put starter Michael Pittman and backup Andre Hall on the injured reserve. Pittman has a neck injury and Hall has has a hand injury. Now, the Broncos' only running backs on the roster are second-year player Selvin Young, who has missed the past three games with a groin injury, and rookie Ryan Torain, who made his NFL debut Sunday, gaining one yard on three carries. Torain broke his elbow in training camp.

And making matters worse, Denver, which has lost four of its past five games, has to play Thursday at Cleveland.

Expect Torain and Young to carry the load against the Browns on a short week. The plan was to ease Torain into the offense against Miami, and he may be ready for more action Thursday. Young was close to being healthy last week and could be ready to help Thursday. Still, Torain isn't ready to help in the passing game and Young has had major durability issues.

It is clear Denver will try to add a running back or two to the mix. But the rest of the season depends on Torain and Young, probably in that order. Torain will be given every chance to become the go-to back. When he was injured, the team was devastated. Denver coach Mike Shanahan, one of the most successful running coaches in the history of the NFL, compared Torain, a fifth-round pick from Arizona State, to Broncos great Terrell Davis.

The Broncos think Torain, who nearly stole the starting job in camp before he was hurt, has the perfect size-speed combination to excel in their zone-blocking offense. The Broncos certainly need him to excel. The running game has been stagnant. The Broncos are ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 105.2 yards a game. That is way below Denver's standards.

Another reason Torain is being asked to produce is because there aren't many running backs remaining on the open market. So help isn't necessarily on the way. Former Denver running backs highlight the list of available rushers. They include Tatum Bell, Mike Bell and Ron Dayne. Other running backs available are Anthony Thomas, Vernand Morency and Wali Lundy. Denver has visited with some of those players in the past. Morency visited Denver a few weeks ago. The team also could promote running back P.J. Pope from the practice squad.

Denver also could potentially use rookie fullback Peyton Hillis at tailback. He has experience there and is an emergency tailback for Denver. He is coming off his best NFL game. The seventh-round pick, who blocked for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in college at Arkansas, had seven catches against Miami.

Still, expect Torain to be given the ball and the opportunity to knock the banged-up Broncos out of their malaise.