ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Royce Freeman is set to become the first rookie running back to start a season opener for the Denver Broncos since Hall of Famer Terrell Davis in 1995.
“It’s an honor to be mentioned with a man of that caliber, a player with that type of legacy around here,” Freeman said.
Coach Vance Joseph chose the third-round pick from Oregon as his starter Monday ahead of veteran Devontae Booker and fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay, who coincidentally was handed Davis’ old No. 30 jersey.
“That being said, it’s going to be by packages, also,” Joseph said. “So, Royce is our leading runner, but on third down you’ll probably see Booker and obviously having a package for Phillips is going to be important.”
Freeman reacted with humility after his position coach, Curtis Modkins, informed him he’d start Sunday against Seattle.
“It’s an honor to be named a starter for this football team,” Freeman said. “It makes me want to work harder.”
Freeman had plenty of miles on his football odometer coming out of Oregon, where he was a four-year starter and rushed 947 times for 5,621 yards and 60 touchdowns in addition to catching 79 passes for 815 yards and four TDs.
General manager John Elway said that proved he’s durable, and Freeman also proved his worth as a pass protector for Case Keenum during training camp and the preseason.
Joseph lauded Freeman’s maturity, saying he can “carry the load from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint. He was really good in ‘pass-pro.’ That’s your biggest worry about having a young halfback playing with a veteran quarterback, but he’s shown the IQ and the maturity to be a great ‘pass-pro’ guy.”
Joseph said Freeman’s build and resume — he packs 238 pounds on his 6-foot frame and started 45 games in college — show he can handle heavy workloads, too.
“That’s what he showed at Oregon. He was their main guy. He had a lot of work. He stayed healthy through the work. And that’s also an issue for most young backs, can they carry the load for 16 weeks?” Joseph said. “And I think with his background, his body type, he should be able to carry the load for 16 weeks.”
Freeman was second-string behind Booker in the preseason, but he led the team with three touchdown runs, one in each of Denver’s first three preseason games before sitting out the exhibition finale.