If there's anything running back Knowshon Moreno has learned from playing football, it's the value of patience.
He redshirted his freshman year at Georgia despite being among the top 10 prep running backs in the country. He shared carries with Willis McGahee in 2011 until suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in mid-November that forced the Denver Broncos to shelve him for the remainder of the season. And he was deactivated for eight straight games this year after losing a fumble in a Week 2 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Despite those hurdles, Moreno, who will headline the Broncos' rushing attack against the Ravens this Sunday, said he didn't allow frustration to seep in and fester.
"You never know where your opportunities are. So when you do get your opportunities, you have to take advantage," Moreno said. "That was my mindset, do whatever it takes to help the team. No one tries to be a cheerleader on game day, but in the back of my head, I was hoping that some day, I would get my chance."
Moreno has seized his chance since replacing McGahee, who sustained a torn medial collateral ligament and compression fracture in his right knee during the team's 30-23 win against the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 18.
In three games since McGahee's injury, Moreno has carried the ball 72 times for 273 yards and one touchdown, and he's caught 12 passes for 88 yards. In Denver's 26-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 6, Moreno finished with 32 runs for 119 yards and one touchdown.
"It's definitely tough when you get a teammate down because of injury," Moreno said. "As a backfield, we just want to be able to come in and make sure there's no hiccup, make sure that the train is still moving."
Moreno's emergence couldn't have come at a better time for Denver, which boasts the fourth-most prolific offense in the NFL and the sixth-best passing attack. Coach John Fox said it's critical that the team demonstrates some balance to take some pressure off of 36-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning, who is a year removed from neck surgery.
"At the end of the day, you try to create balance," Fox said. "You don't want to become one-dimensional. Being able to run and pass throughout a 60-minute game is, in my opinion, very beneficial. I coached defense for a lot of years in my career, and we understand that."
Moreno has gotten at least 20 carries in each of his three starts this season, but he said the number of touches isn't something that he, Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball (Maryland) are tabulating.
"It doesn't matter how many carries we get," Moreno said. "We just try to do the best we can with our carries. If that's 15, it is what it is. If it's more than that, then what's what we have to do as a backfield."
Moreno's performance against the Raiders caught the attention of the Ravens, who have surrendered 10 rushing touchdowns and allowed Washington Redskins rookie Alfred Morris to gain 122 yards with one score in last Sunday's 31-28 overtime loss.
Linebacker Albert McClellan said Moreno has a different running style than McGahee's.
"Willis has got a lot of power coming behind him with his size and stuff like that," McClellan said. "But [Moreno] is more agile. We want to keep him in the box. If you can keep him in the box, not too many people can run through the box. Once you get that and put four hats on him, we should be good."
Nearing the end of the fourth year of a five-year contract he signed as a rookie, Moreno said he isn't worried about putting together a resume for potential employers when he becomes a free agent after the 2013 season. At the same time, Moreno didn't shoot down the idea that he has vindicated himself with his recent performances.
"I think I'm a very good running back," he said. "At the same time, any of those guys in the room can get the job done in the backfield. It was just going back to competing and doing whatever was necessary for the team."