Most onlookers would tell you the Denver Broncos have a pretty good stable of backs entering training camp. The glass would appear to be half full. The young group is talented and versatile but relatively inexperienced and somewhat injury prone. Either way this group will be tested in the run-heavy, stretch-run, zone-blocking offense this year.

The group includes multiple players that have started an NFL game but none that have carried the workload of a 16-plus game season. The group from top to bottom will have a lot of work to do in August before Gary Kubiak feels comfortable with his ball carriers and it will be fun to watch.

The starter

It came as no surprise that upon Gary Kubiak’s arrival he was already smitten with C.J. Anderson. Most of the NFL world had just seen him barrel his way through the second half of the 2014-15 season to the Pro Bowl. Kubiak stated early that it was Anderson’s job to lose but made some very strong comments regarding the undrafted running back from California following organized team activities in June.

“I think in this league as coaches you look for guys that can be three-down players. When you have two-down players, that’s fine, but it’s just very difficult in the game standpoint and getting them the ball and calling the game when you’re not out there all the time. He has a knack for protection; he’s very bright in protection. So he’s a guy that’s not going to leave the field—as much as he can stand. And that’s what the great ones do so that gives him an excellent chance.”

Anderson exploded for 847 of his 929 total rushing yards after week nine of the season and displayed a toughness and field vision the team had been missing in the backfield. He has stated several times that he has watches and admires two of Kubiak’s previous running backs, Arian Foster and fellow Cal Bear alum, Justin Forsett.

Due to his late-season success at breaking tackles and showing great second effort, Anderson will have another crack at the starting role at the start of training camp. If he performs like he did last December he will be a big fixture in the offense all season. The burly back is used to proving himself and is ready to hit training camp running.

“You don’t want to be a one-year wonder in this league, not at all. No one wants to do that. I’m going to keep my head down, keep grinding every day and keep pushing. What happened last year happened last year. That’s completely over and done with,” he said June 4.

The No. 2 spot

As Anderson enters camp the “change of pace” running back competition will be interesting. Both Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball have a lot to prove this training camp. Both players were highly touted draft picks and have yet to prove themselves worthy of were they selected in the second and third rounds.

Ball was named the No. 1 back as training camp arrived last summer but was sidelined with an appendectomy during camp and then had a bad groin tear end his year just five weeks into the regular season. Kubiak will need someone to help Anderson and it is clear that Ball is itching not only to get playing time but try and get his starting job back. He has reportedly changed his training regime to gain flexibility and has lost some weight.

Hillman’s seat on the team is the hottest. He has been unreliable as an every down back but has shown flashes of what John Elway must have seen when he drafted him in 2012 out of San Diego State University. Hillman recorded 22 carries in the infamous playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 and was relied on heavily in his rookie season. Last year he got an opportunity to take over the starting role when Ball went down but could not take full advantage. He logged two games were he surpassed 100 yards rushing but was sidelined for six weeks down the stretch with a foot injury.

Hillman is the smallest back on the team and that maybe the real limitation he has going into training camp. His health and his size may make him the odd man out when August comes to a close but it will not be for a lack of effort. The position group has a healthy relationship that Anderson expanded on last month.

“It’s definitely a competition back there between all of us. It’s a fun competition. It’s all fun. We’re great friends off the field, but in between the lines it’s business and it’s work. What people don’t understand that our friendship is, ‘Hey, C.J., take two more steps and make this cut.’ Or ‘Montee (Ball), your eyes are bad here, you can be better.’ Or ‘Ronnie (Hillman), you’re a little too fast here, tone it down.’”

While the teammates remain friends the competition will be fierce and one of these two may have to find a new team to befriend in the fall.

The sleepers

The Broncos also have two players that will be trying to make waves on the lower end of the depth chart and move into an expanded role from last season. Kapri Bibbs and Juwan Thompson will get their opportunities to shine at Dove Valley and could be the most exciting competition in the backfield.

Bibbs and Thompson made enough noise in camp last year to make the roster as undrafted rookie free agents. Thompson even saw some playing time as a rookie, compiling 272 total rushing yards. He carried the ball for a season high 10 times in week 13 but had his best run of 47 yards the following week versus the Buffalo Bills. His bruising 225-pound frame and style is what the coaching staff liked about him last season and will continue to be what separates him from the rest this year.

Bibbs, the former Colorado State Ram, will have an uphill battle once again in camp. He can do almost anything he is asked but doesn’t separate himself in any category like Hillman’s speed or Thompson’s size. He will have to show he can grasp the stretch-run scheme and make decisive cuts if he wants to get that first carry in a regular season game.

Both of these backs maybe supplanting a high draft pick and turn into the third man on the depth chart. Little known Jeremy Stewart may also get a crack at the job. The fourth-year back out of Stanford jumped on the team last season when injuries piled up and had six carries for 22 yards. As of now, he has the toughest round ahead.

The talent is plentiful at running back and the skills sets vary. That makes the running back position one to watch at camp. Every player on the roster has the potential to make noise and it will be thrilling to see who takes advantage of the limelight in August and makes an impact in December.

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