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Denver Broncos' position battles: Ronnie Hillman on bubble (again)

Ken Pomponio Avatar
July 23, 2015


With the opening of training camp a week away, BSN Denver is offering a series of articles previewing the battles for roster spots at various positions. We opened with a look at Cody Latimer and the wide receivers on Wednesday, and today we continue with the running backs.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: C.J. Anderson and Montee Ball will be on the Orange and Blue’s final roster come Labor Day weekend.

From Week 10 to the finish last season, only Bengals’ rookie Jeremy Hill (775 yards) rushed for more yards than Anderson (767) and only the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch (eight) had as many rushing touchdowns. That strong finish has vaulted Anderson to the top the depth chart entering training camp, and it’s going to take an injury, a bevy of preseason fumbles/foibles or a near-super-human showing by one of the backups to unseat the third-year back.

Ball, meanwhile, figures to be a strong No. 2 if he can regain the production and promise he displayed late in his rookie season of 2013. His 2014 campaign was an injury-marred mess that netted only five games played and 234 total yards from scrimmage, but he’s a second-round draft pick of the current regime, and John Elway & Co. are not about to give up on him after only 1½ seasons.

After getting past those two, however, things get a little dicey when it comes to roster stability.

Ronnie Hillman, a third-round pick in 2012, had his best season yet a year ago in only eight games – including his first career NFL starts (four) – with 434 rushing yards, 21 receptions, 573 yards from scrimmage and four total TDs, but at 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds he remains on the smallish side and never has established himself as “The Guy.” And that puts him in a perennial battle for a spot among the final 53.

The Broncos rostered five running backs for most of the 2014 season, but keep in mind that the fullback position was nowhere to be found on last year’s depth chart, and that will change this season with the arrival of coach Gary Kubiak’s system and FB/TEs James Casey and Joe Don Duncan.

That means only three, or (very unlikely) four, true tailbacks could make the final roster.

That said, the size (5-11, 225) to line up at either RB or FB and versatility – he’s also a special-teams standout – of Juwan Thompson could really play into the favor of the second-year college free agent, who won a 2014 roster spot after a strong preseason and then followed up with a few flashes (297 total yards, three TDs) in the games that count.

Bringing up the rear are former Colorado State standout Kapri Bibbs and fourth-year journeyman Jeremy Stewart. The former certainly still carries much potential and is a definite practice-squad candidate given he came out early from CSU a year ago, but make no mistake both Bibbs and Stewart are going to need big – as in HUGE — training camps and preseasons to have a shot at the final 53.

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