Born Broncos: Olandis Gary starts a productive trend

Olandis Gary #22...
Olandis Gary #22... / Tom Hauck/GettyImages

In this edition of Born Broncos, we look at former RB Olandis Gary.

Career Stats for Broncos RB Olandis Gary

Years Played: 1999-2004

Teams Played For: Broncos, Lions

Career Stats: 2,413 yards from scrimmage, 4 yards per cary, 11 TD's.

While many Broncos fans will remember Olandis Gary for his rookie season in 1999, perhaps the production from that season created a blueprint for many Shanahan backs in the years to come. Before we get to that point, let's look at Gary's early years. Olandis Gary was born May 18th, 1975 in Washington D.C. After finishing high school, he went to Georgia and became part of its heralded backfield. Gary's Georgia career was brief but showed plenty of promise. In the two seasons he played in college, Gary accumulated 1,271 yards from scrimmage and 18 TDs. The most impressive fact about his college career is his yardage was tallied with less than 250 touches. It would be stats like this that would lead Gary's football career to the Mile High City.

As a 4th round selection in the 1999 NFL Draft, Gary would join a room shared by the reigning NFL MVP (and Georgia alum) Terrell Davis. Hopes for Gary's rookie year were initially minimized, as many expected Davis to repeat his All-Pro form. Unfortunately, an early season injury to Davis would derail any plans for another MVP campaign. For Gary, this would open the door for him to produce a surprise rookie campaign.

Olandis Gary
Green Bay Packers vs Denver Broncos / Brian Bahr/GettyImages

Gary would end up rushing for 1,159 yards and catching another 159 for 7 TDs. A promising rookie debut, considering that he only played in 12 games: in a season marred by injuries and disappointing finishes, Gary would be a rare bright spot on a transitioning Broncos team. In Davis' absence, Olandis Gary stepped up and provided a very important blueprint to Mike Shanahan.

While Davis was a late-round gem for the Broncos, he proved to be a capable workhorse back that could last for several years. Once Gary was inserted into the lineup, it was the first time another back was plugged into the scheme (and had instant success). This would give Shanahan, and many future play callers, leverage in which they would use their personnel. Gary would make the All-Rookie team in 1999 and set several franchise records. Like his peer in Davis, Gary's meteoric rise to the top would also be cut short.

Early in the 2000 season, Gary would suffer a knee injury, effectively ending his time as the bell cow back for the Broncos. It was a shame, especially considering what the 2000 Broncos offense would go on to do. That season, the team would finish 2nd in the league with points scored and have several Pro Bowl players. Perhaps the most notable boost in that attack was Mike Anderson, who would end up being Gary's replacement. Anderson would rush for 1,487 yards and 15 TDs, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year. This campaign would further solidify Shanahan's system and how running backs could be used.

Broncos v Cowboys X Gary
Broncos v Cowboys X Gary / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

Gary would return and play two more seasons for the Broncos. He would only rack up 375 yards on the ground in those seasons. He would finish his Broncos career with 1,614 yards and 9 TDs. Following the 2002 season, Gary would give his career one more shot, signing with the Detroit Lions. With 384 yards and a pair of TDs, Gary's time in Detroit would close in 2004. He would retire from pro football soon after.

Olandis Gary's career is one that may have had more influence after he left the field than what he did on it. That's not to disparage what he did as a player. His rookie year alone is one of the better campaigns we've ever seen from a running back. What he did in that season though did revolutionize an offensive scheme (and how backs could be used in it).

In the years following Gary's breakout campaign, fellow backs like Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns, Tatum Bell, Alfred Morris, and several others would instantly flourish in this offense. Up until Davis' injury, nobody knew how effective other backs could be. It was Gary's efforts in 1999 that showed how strong the offense was and how backs of a certain caliber could excel in them.

Even in today's game, Mike's son Kyle has employed backs like Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, Matt Breida, Devontae Freeman, and Tevin Coleman to have similar success. Again, that's not to say that it's so easy any back could do it. All the backs listed above had traits that allowed them to succeed in the offense. It was Gary, however, that blazed the trail. Without his outstanding rookie season, play-callers may not have had the same philosophy behind the offense that they do today. Olandis Gary showed that a certain type of back can keep your offense churning, even if they weren't a household name. That, in its own right, was a revelation to many NFL offenses.

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Olandis Gary, here's a MIle High Salute to you! Thanks for everything that you did for Broncos Country!