Ed Andrieski/Associated Press
The competition at running back is going to be something to watch as camp unfolds for the Broncos. Montee Ball is penciled in as the starter after a rookie season in 2013 that saw him progress as the year went on. That’s not set in stone yet, but it would be a shock to see anyone else start for the Broncos unless Ball gets injured before the season begins.
Behind Ball, the Broncos have an interesting collection of backs.
C.J. Anderson is a second-year pro and the team’s only true power back. He has a huge lower body and incredible leg drive that helps him push defenders after contact. Anderson could be relied on as a starter if need be, and that may win him the primary backup job behind Ball.
Ronnie Hillman is a third-year pro who could be in a make-or-break season in 2014. Last year at this time, Hillman was the lead back for the Broncos. He lost the starting job in the preseason after fumbling three times in two games (two were returned for touchdowns).
Hillman began last season as a rotational backup behind Knowshon Moreno. He lost the job with another fumble in Week 7 against the Indianapolis Colts. Hillman recently admitted that he relaxed too much last year.
“Yeah, and leading up to the season, and it carried over. But like I said, it won’t happen again. I’m going into a new season.”
He knows that he must be accountable and prove to the coaches that he can be a reliable professional. Hillman is also not conceding the starting job; he wants to compete for the top spot.
“You’ve just got to come to work with a chip on your shoulder. It’s easy to say you’re going to practice hard and work hard, but you’ve just got to show it. Right now is the time. These next couple of months are crucial.” Hillman emphasized, “The job’s open, and I’m going after it. I’m not working to be No. 2.”
Behind Hillman, the Broncos have Jerodis Williams. He’s a bit of an unknown after coming out of Furman as an undrafted free agent. He spent last year in training camp with the Minnesota Vikings but failed to make the final roster. Williams has been impressive in limited reps with the Broncos during minicamp because of his receiving ability and agility after the catch.
The team also added three college free-agent running backs this year after the draft.
Brennan Clay has arguably been the most impressive back during rookie minicamp and team minicamp. Clay has big-play ability, speed, agility and vision to pick up big chunks of yards as a runner or receiver out of the backfield.
Kapri Bibbs was a stud for Colorado State last year, rushing for over 1,700 yards and scoring 31 touchdowns. In addition to his nose for the end zone, Bibbs runs with great efficiency. He doesn’t waste motion as a runner and can run inside the tackles. Bibbs also has the speed to bounce it outside once at the second level of the defense.
Juwan Thompson has a fine all-around skill set. He’s kind of a ‘tweener, as he can line up at fullback or running back. He’s got a quick initial burst and is tough to bring down once he builds a head of steam.
Thompson is also a fantastic receiver out of the backfield. He has soft hands and can work well as a target on screen passes or wheel routes. An incredibly important asset—pass protection—is also a feather in his cap.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase says the competition is wide open behind Ball.
“I would say everybody behind Montee right now is competing for the second spot. It’s wide open. So whoever wants to step up, take the spot, that’s what we’re looking for.”
He’s not looking for just a change-of-pace back behind Ball. Gase wants to find the best backs for the depth chart.
“The way I look at our running backs is, we’re going to have two to three guys playing every game, and whoever the first guy on the field is, it’s irrelevant. You never know, it might be [TE] Virgil Green one game. And what’s he, the starter?” Gase continued, “We’re going to have two to three guys that are going to contribute every game, and whatever their skill set is, we’re going to make sure that we use them to the best of their ability.”
Anderson has to be considered the front-runner at this point, but guys like Hillman (and the rest) will feverishly compete for the primary backup job.