Broncos Position Battles: Running Back.
Friday, May 17, 2013 8:22am
The Broncos 2013 rookie minicamp has concluded and now it’s time for their regular minicamp to start. On Monday the 20th of May we’ll see the full Broncos squad together in practice for the first time since the playoffs. Denver has an eye on a Super Bowl championship but there are a few key position battles that have to be settled in camp before their road to glory can begin. In this series “Broncos Position Battles” I’ll examine the competitions we’ll see play out before the start of the regular season.
With the 58th overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft the Broncos selected Montee Ball out of Wisconsin. He’s got plenty of experience after finishing his college career with 983 touches. Some see that as a negative as running backs have only so much tread. However, Broncos new Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase sees that as a positive. “The thing that I love about Montee, that he does, is he has great vision. I never really saw him take the massive shot.” Gase continued. “He did a great job of being able to avoid the big hit. I don’t think that’s going to affect him. I think what he does is carry the ball. That’s his strong suit.”
Ball will compete for the starting job with Ronnie Hillman, Willis McGahee, and Knowshon Moreno. Some think Hillman is best suited as the team’s change of pace runner and big play weapon out of the backfield. Hillman is the fastest running back on the Broncos’ roster and is dangerous in the open field. He’s considered the ‘Lightning’ of what the Broncos want to be a ‘Thunder and Lightning’ backfield. That leaves McGahee and Moreno as the biggest competition for Ball as the team’s featured runner.
McGahee is bigger than Ball, weighing about 20 pounds more than the rookie. He has the pro experience and has played at a high level for years. Last season before he was hurt, McGahee was one of the leading rushers in the NFL. However, fumbling was an issue for McGahee last year and he injured his knee in a week 11 game against the Chargers and was lost for the season. Some have speculated the team would release McGahee because of his $3 million cap number in 2013. The Broncos would save $2 million this year if McGahee was let go. That’s speculation at this point, but the Denver Post says McGahee and Moreno may be competing for one job
in training camp.
Moreno is a more versatile player than McGahee and has proven to be a reliable pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield. It was Moreno the Broncos turned to after McGahee went down in week 11. He had been inactive for eight weeks at that time, but seemed more mature and focused when he got the call to be the starter. Moreno lacks the power of McGahee, lacks the speed of Hillman, and has a history of durability issues – including last year when he went down in the playoff game against the Ravens with another knee injury. Moreno’s cap number is larger than McGahee’s ($3.25 million)
but with more dead money on his contract the Broncos would only save $945,000 if Moreno was released.
The Broncos are seeking better balance in the ground game in terms of outside runs versus inside runs. Last year the Broncos became predictable with their inside runs under former OC Mike McCoy. That play is better suited for backs like McGahee or Moreno. This year we could see outside zone stretch plays as the hallmark of the ground game. They recently hired Alex Gibbs as an O-Line consultant and he is considered the godfather of the zone blocking system. Peyton Manning perfected the stretch play with the Colts and backs like Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai were very successful in that system. Zone stretch plays to the strengths of both Ball and Hillman.
Gase commented on the design of the ground game at rookie minicamp. “We’re going to be a little more balanced on inside/outside runs. It’s going to be predicated, obviously, on what the defense is giving us, so as the game goes, it’s probably going to change. That’s the great thing about having the line coaches we have. [Offensive Line Coach] Dave Magazu, [Tight Ends Coach] Clancy Barone, with him up top, kind of letting us know, ‘Hey, outside’s good, maybe we should stay with the inside.’ It’s going to change throughout the game. It’s basically what the defense is giving us, and we’ll go opposite.”
Montee Ball averaged 7.1 yards per carry outside the tackles over the last two seasons. He saw almost 37 percent of his carries go outside the tackles over that period as well. Ball has the vision to find holes some don’t see. He also is a patient runner who anticipates where cutback lanes are going to be. Ball is considered a favorite to win the starting job in training camp.
No rookie running back has had a ton of success under head coach John Fox
. The most carries by a rookie runner under Fox was 184 by Jonathan Stewart (Panthers) in 2008. If Ball wins the starting job we could see him finish the year as the most featured runner under the Fox regime. In fact, our Broncos insider Mike Klis believes Ball could get around 225 carries
on the season if he’s the featured runner.
Running Back is the top position battle to watch this offseason. The favorite is Montee Ball but the rookie won’t be handed the starting job, he’ll have to earn it on the practice field.