ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There was a time when Knowshon Moreno was buried on the Broncos' depth chart, his roster spot sporting more than a few cracks in the foundation.
A time like, say, August.
"I just go to work," Moreno said. "That's all it is. That's what I say, that's all it is, you can't worry, but you can work."
Two months later Moreno is Mr. Reliable, the proverbial hot hand, the veteran sage in a meeting room filled with first- and second-year running backs.
That's a long way from what many inside the Broncos used to say about Moreno when words like "immature," "un-focused" or "attention span" would often crop up.
Moreno tore his ACL in Kansas City in November of 2011, was a game-day inactive eight times last season after a fumble in Atlanta, reinjured the knee in the playoff loss to the Ravens last January and had a stem-cell procedure on the knee in the offseason to try to get ready to play again. Put all that on the pile and Moreno spent much of the offseason looking up at Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball on the depth chart -- players the Broncos selected in the last two drafts to presumably replace him.
"But whether it was injury, where he was on the depth chart, being inactive, playing time, he handled it such a great way," Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville said. "He did what we always tell people to do, control what you can, come to work every day, prepare yourself and come and do it. He's been rewarded for doing that. That's the example. Don't sit and complain. Don't put it on somebody else, put it on me, I need to fix this, I need to do this better.
"I think all the credit goes to him," Studesville added. "Whether it's his experiences, other people he's talking to, growing up, it's him. I try to encourage and support him, affirm to him that he is doing it the right way, but he did this, he made it right."
The moment it may have all turned around came in what was but a preseason cameo for the Broncos starters in Seattle. Playing with a regular-season edge, the Seahawks came after quarterback Peyton Manning. Ball missed a blitz pickup, and Manning took one of the biggest hits in his time in Denver from Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. Soon after, Moreno began to appear more and more in the team's three-wide receiver package because of his consistency in pass protection.
Moreno started to do more when he was handed the ball. And what was a three-player rotation with Moreno, Ball and Hillman is still a three-man operation, but Moreno has nudged out front. He had 19 carries against the Cowboys, and while that pales in comparison to some of the 30-carry lug-the-rock types in the league it was the most carries any Broncos back has had in a game this season.
"The thing that we would like to do is not use him as much as we did the other day," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "But he had a hot hand going. He was doing a great job of protection. He was running the ball really well ... Just to have him in there and to get him that hot, you don't want to go away from him."
Moreno, who was Josh McDaniels' first draft pick (16th overall in 2009) in his two-year run as Broncos' head coach, has 331 yards rushing after five games. That's his highest total since he had 337 after five games as a rookie, a season in which his 947 yards rushing still stands as a career-best because of all that has followed. His four rushing touchdowns are tied for second in the league in this pass-happy season, and his 5.1 yards per carry is good for eighth in the league, fifth among running backs.
"For me I always want to do whatever they need me to do, I don't want them to feel like I have to come out because I can't do something," Moreno said. "We have lots of good guys, we're all going to play, but I just want to be able to do what's needed. I still feel like I run with purpose every time. I just go play hard, run hard, block hard, catch the ball. I want to be with this team and I'm just going as hard as I can."
Added Studesville: "When he was third or whatever on the depth chart, the young guys were getting all the reps in the offseason and in camp, but he just kept grinding. And it wasn't so much anybody else, it was just him. And the thing is, there's no fluff there, there's no extra on it, it's just work. It's all the things we preach, that you work, that you're accountable and that you change the things that were affecting you before. It takes a lot inside to make those changes and do those things, and he's done it."