ALAMEDA — It has become almost a given in the NFL.

Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan will take a running back, any back, throw him behind an offensive line that excels at the zone-blocking scheme, sit back and reap the dividends of yet another 1,000-yard season.

Yet, that theory has been put to the ultimate test this season as running back after running back goes down with injury and forces Shanahan to dig deep into his stockpile of players.

"It's kind of unusual to actually go through five, and you're on six, seven, eight," Shanahan said in a conference call Wednesday. "I don't think I've ever been through that. We have some good guys that have come in here, worked hard, and they have been productive the last couple of weeks."

Tatum Bell is the latest option used by Shanahan in a season that has seen four different running backs start games. Bell is expected to start Sunday against the Raiders.

It won't help much for the Raiders to watch videotape of their first game against the Broncos this season.

In that game, Andre Hall, Michael Pittman, Selvin Young and Peyton Hillis combined for 114 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries in a season-opening 41-14 Denver victory.

Of those, only Hillis is healthy and assured of playing Sunday. Oh, and he is a rookie, the overlooked part of the Arkansas trio that included Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.


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Pittman leads the Broncos with 320 yards. Therefore, it is likely that the Broncos will finish without a 1,000-yard runner for the second straight season and only the third time under Shanahan.

Bell was out of the league two weeks ago. He was cut by the Broncos during training camp and let go by the Detroit Lions after a brief stint. He is hopeful of regaining the form that enabled him to rush for 1,025 yards with the Broncos in 2006.

Don't rule it out when it comes to the Broncos. Six players have posted one or more 1,000-yard rushing seasons in Shanahan's 14 seasons. Those six combined for 11 such campaigns.

By comparison, the Raiders have only five 1,000-yard rushers the past 14 seasons. None of those cracks the top six marks by Broncos backs during that time.

Furthermore, 13 Denver running backs boast of at least one 100-yard game during that span. Those backs combined for a league-high 94 100-yard games.

As a result, it has become common for people to surmise that any back could reach 1,000 yards in Shanahan's offense. Shanahan takes umbrage with the suggestion.

"Sometimes that's overrated," he said. "You always have to have talent. You can't just plug anybody back there. There are a lot of football players that can come in and help your football team win.

"You're just hoping that your scouting staff can find guys that fit within your scheme, know your terminology and can help you out on Sunday; the game's not too big for them."

Contact Steve Corkran at scorkran@bayareanewsgroup.com.