Training camp is just a couple of weeks away, and the Denver Broncos have starting jobs, roles and roster spots open for competition. Coaches love competition, reasoning that competition makes players push themselves harder to get better. Coaches will even manufacture competition in the absence of real competition. We all know that certain positions are secure, but don't tell the coaching staff.
The truth is, jobs are won and lost in training camp and no one is totally safe. Players go down with injuries and other players have the opportunity to steal their jobs. At some point, a veteran is no longer good enough to start over a younger player or a young player proves he's good enough to steal snaps from a solid veteran.
The Broncos have eight running backs on the training camp roster and a maximum of four should make the team in 2012. The aging Willis McGahee is projected to start, but at 31, he could lose carries. McGahee had a his best year as a professional in 2011, but the absence of Tim Tebow and the addition of Peyton Manning will drastically change the running game in Denver.
Chase Stuart over at FootballPerspective.com did a study where they looked at running back aging patterns. Based on Stuart's research, McGahee could be hitting the wall at his age. The low mileage in the three years prior to becoming a Bronco in 2010 could prolong a decline, but the Broncos are wise to have other options ready.
Some believe rookie Ronnie Hillman might quickly earn the lion's share of the carries even if McGahee is healthy because he is a good fit for a Peyton Manning-run running attack. That is the pin-and-pull outside zone scheme. The Manning offense, including the pin-and-pull zone, is described by Chris Brown at Smart Football in great detail.
Hillman is also a capable receiver and could be used on third downs. That would cut into Knowshon Moreno's projected role as the third-down running back. Moreno has a disappointing 2011 season, as injuries limited him to just seven games and two starts.
If Moreno loses his role on third down, it's reasonable to assume the Broncos would release him. With no role and little added special teams value, Moreno could find himself looking for employment. The market has not been kind to running backs in 2012.
However, if Moreno is healthy he can be productive in the passing game and find himself getting a lot of reps with Manning. At 24, Moreno is still young and could be entering his prime years. The Broncos would be wise to give Moreno a long look with a legitimate quarterback.
No player has more at stake during training camp than Moreno, and his outlook ranges from being released to being very involved in the offensive game plan.
Behind McGahee, Hillman and Moreno are Lance Ball, Mario Fannin, Chris Gronkowski, Xavier Omon and Jeremiah Johnson.
Ball has been a backup and good player on special teams for the Broncos for the past two years and actually had 94 carries in 2011 because of Moreno's injury. If the Broncos keep Moreno around, Ball and the other running backs will have to hope the team keeps four running backs.
Ability to play on special teams could be one of the deciding factors when deciding which running backs to keep. That could give Ball an advantage over Moreno. Fannin, Gronkowski, Omon and Johnson, who are considered long shots to make the roster. Fannin, Omon and Johnson should be practice squad eligible.
The Broncos don't figure to use a fullback much in their offensive scheme. Only Austin Slyvester is on the roster and he doesn't figure to make much of an impact in the running, passing or blocking game.
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