Broncos training camp battle preview: Denver’s backfield a full stable

Dec 15, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (30) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Denver’s training camp is almost here, which means that everyone outside of a select few will be battling to either secure a roster spot or lock down a starting role.

One would assume that running back Phillip Lindsay would find himself in that exclusive group of players that have already snagged a starting spot, but recent reports have suggested that not only has that starting job not been secured, but Royce Freeman may be favored to steal it.

Let’s take a look at what writers Rich Kurtzman and Zach Segars think about the running back battle:

Zach Segars:

While many would assume that Phillip Lindsay has the starting running back job all wrapped up after his stellar outing in 2018, that isn’t the case.

Due to continued concerns over Lindsay’s size and his durability if used as a workhorse back, the Broncos are reportedly leaning towards giving fellow 2018 rookie Royce Freeman the lion’s share of the carries. That being said, Lindsay’s prowess in the passing game means he’s still likely to get the majority of touches, but at this point, it would be a surprise if he is given more carries than Freeman.

In fact, there should be plenty of work in the passing game for the backs in Rich Scangarello’s offense. Last year in San Francisco, running backs caught more than a quarter of all 49ers’ completions.

Lindsay’s projected involvement in the passing game makes even more sense when you consider that Scangarello wants to use him more as a mismatch weapon. There’s no way better to do that than to line him up in the slot on a slower linebacker.

That being said, Lindsay has the opportunity with another stellar camp showing to flip the script and become the workhorse back as well as a mismatch nightmare. Remember, it was this time last year when the majority of Broncos’ fans didn’t even have Phillip Lindsay on their radar, and even those that did didn’t foresee what followed in 2018.

If Phillip Lindsay tears up camp once again this summer he could quickly emerge as the lone lead back in Scangarello’s offense and rather than being the “1A” to Freeman’s “1B” could become the starter to Freeman’s backup role.

Rich Kurtzman:

As Zach stated, many Broncos fans may have been aware of Lindsay last summer — he was the hometown hero from South High School and the University of Colorado — but few believed he’d become the shooting star he was last season.

1,037 rushing yards, a 5.4 yard per carry average, nine touchdowns and the clear ability to be a home run hitter due to his immense patience in reading blocks; there’s no way Lindsay wouldn’t be the starter in Denver for many years to come. The first ever undrafted rookie to make a Pro Bowl roster, Lindsay’s season didn’t end well due to that wrist injury, worrying some in terms of the smallish back’s durability.

That’s re-opened the door for Freeman, the “thunder” to Lindsay’s “lightning” in the backfield. To start camp — and if he performs well there, the season — Freeman is the odds-on favorite to be leading in terms of touches and carries.

Freeman’s a bruiser, and if one goes back to look at his college tape, he ran very much like Terrell Davis as a collegiate. A downhill runner who knows how to hit the hole when needed, following his blockers in the zone scheme, and he was even able to hit a few home runs of his own while at Oregon.

At the NFL level, Freeman doesn’t really possess the speed needed to take a long run to the house, but his fit into Scangarello’s scheme could mean even when Lindsay is healthy that Freeman gets as many carries as the rookie phenom.

Scangarello’s offense comes from the Mike Shanahan-Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, utilizing the west coast offense passing game as well as the zone-blocking run scheme on the ground.

Of course, we’d be remiss to fail to mention Devontae Booker as well as rookie Devontae Jackson, who round out the running back corps. Lindsay and Freeman are seemingly in a two-horse race for the Broncos, but as we’ve seen as recently as last season, depth is key in the backfield.

Booker has been used less and less over the course of his three-year career in the backfield, providing help on special teams, which will likely help him make the active roster again this season. And while he only had 34 carries (5.4 YPC) last season, Booker hit career-highs in receptions (38) and yards (275) last year.

As for Jackson, he’s more similar in size to Lindsay, meaning he can work in that scat-back role as a backup and will have to also contribute on special teams to make the roster. He rushed for more than 4,000 yards with 32 touchdowns at West Georgia and proved to be a talent as a pass-catcher, too.

As training camp gets underway next week (July 18), keep an eye on how the team is using Lindsay as it will signal his health level, and watch how Freeman takes the reins as the possible starter heading into the kickoff of the season.

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