Broncos add to backfield by signing FB Johnson

Updated: December 1, 2007, 9:47 AM ET
Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos fullback Kyle Johnson had his Thanksgiving plans all set when he suddenly had to cancel.

Kyle Johnson

Johnson

Not that he minded. The Broncos called him Wednesday morning in New Jersey to see if he was available, and he was signed and at practice by Thursday. Denver released guard Isaac Snell to make room for Johnson on the roster.

Johnson, who was waived by the Broncos on Sept. 1, thought he could get up to speed by Sunday's game at Chicago. He's been working out back home, and keeping an eye on what was happening with Denver.

Although, he couldn't bring himself to watch NFL games on Sunday.

"Emotionally, it was difficult for me,'' Johnson said. "It was too hard.''

The acquisition of Johnson may mean a move back to tailback for Mike Bell, who gained 677 yards in that role in 2006. Bell was switched to fullback this season thanks to a crowded backfield. The team already had Travis Henry, Selvin Young and Andre Hall at tailback.

"I don't know if I'm playing [tailback],'' Bell said Thursday. "I might. We've got some good tailbacks.''

Yet Denver's top two backs are banged up. Henry and Young both missed practice for a second straight day Thursday. Henry has been hampered by a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and Young suffered a knee strain against Tennessee on Monday night.

"He's a little bit sore,'' Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said of Henry. "He kind of jogged around a little bit. Same thing with Selvin. He's feeling a little better.''

There's also Henry's battle with the league hanging over the Broncos. Henry is fighting to keep the NFL from suspending him over the results of a drug test. He had a hearing with the league last Friday in Phoenix and could hear back on a verdict any day.

If he's unsuccessful, Henry faces a yearlong suspension.

"I haven't heard anything,'' Shanahan said after practice Thursday.

Hall is the only healthy tailback on the depth chart. The first-year South Florida product had a breakout game against the Titans on Monday night, sealing a 34-20 win with a 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Should Henry or Young not be able to play Sunday, the Broncos could slide either of their fullbacks, Cecil Sapp or Bell, over to tailback. Sapp has seven carries for 28 yards and a touchdown this season.

"It's always a possibility,'' Bell said of moving over to running back. "I'm hoping. I just want to get on the field.''

Shanahan said the move to re-sign Johnson was made because of a calf injury to fullback Paul Smith, not to juggle around the tailback position.

"Paul is a little banged up,'' Shanahan said. "He hasn't practiced in a couple days. We have to have depth at that position.''

Johnson definitely gives the Broncos depth. He played in 14 games last season for Denver, helping pave the way for Tatum Bell to rush for 1,025 yards in 2006. Bell was traded in the offseason, along with offensive lineman George Foster, to Detroit for cornerback Dre' Bly.

After being released by Denver, Johnson had workouts with five other NFL teams. He found out one hard truth -- a lot of squads are not enamored with the fullback position.

"I had plenty of doubts,'' the Syracuse graduate said of whether he'd play again. "I guess it crystalized the reality and finality of the sport.''

There may be a few new wrinkles here and there, but Johnson said the Broncos' playbook isn't vastly different from when he left. He still plans to spend his time between now and the game Sunday getting reacquainted with the offense.

"I feel like I have a certain understanding,'' he said. "I'm not there now, but I hope to be.''

Notes
WR Javon Walker practiced for a second straight day Thursday. He has missed the last eight games with a right knee injury. "Hopefully, he's full go [Friday],'' Shanahan said. "If that's the case, he'll be able to play on Sunday.'' ... Returner Glenn Martinez (ankle) returned to practice Thursday. Martinez had an 80-yard punt return against Tennessee, and was recently named the AFC special teams player of the week.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press