ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is one of the most crowded spots on the Denver Broncos' roster, at least in terms of players who have started games for the team before and believe they could start games again in the near future.
It is also unique in that of all the running backs currently with the Broncos, Ronnie Hillman has the longest tenure with the team -- three seasons -- and he’s still just 23 years old. But C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball and Hillman have also all started games and been "the guy" in the Broncos' backfield previously.
And of the six players at the position only Jeremy Stewart is older than 24. It's a collection of players with each in his physical prime working through offseason workouts with the idea there is playing time well within reach.
“We like that group,’’ Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “That’s a lot of young guys who all want to play, who all believe they can play and that’s what you want. Let them go at it -- C.J. is kind of at the top right now -- but they all believe it could be them.’’
Anderson, who was the team’s primary runner for much of the last seven regular-season games last season, has worked the most with the starters through the offseason program. But at this point last season he was third on the depth chart behind Ball and Hillman.
And Anderson only became the starter after Ball pulled a groin muscle Oct. 5 against the Arizona Cardinals and Hillman suffered a foot injury Nov. 9 in Oakland. So, the group knows things can change and Anderson said the backs, so close in age and experience, have taken a big-picture approach to things as well because of that.
“It’s definitely a competition back there between all of us, it’s a fun competition, it’s all fun,’’ Anderson said. “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, your eyes are bad here, you can be better.’ Or ‘Ronnie, you’re a little too fast here, tone it down.’ The competition is super friendly and we’re super friendly even helping each other out on the field.’’
The Broncos will have their mandatory three-day minicamp in the coming week; it is the only part of the offseason program when players can be fined for missing it. Their last set of OTAs in the week that follows that – June 15-18.
Anderson has kept the top spot on the depth chart thus far with his work in the meeting room and on the practice field. Ball, however, has received some work with the starters and has vowed to earn the starting job back.
The rather substantial carrot still in front of them is Kubiak’s promise to run the ball more and his track record of running prolific rushing offenses.
Anderson, with his vision and one-cut decisiveness, is a quality fit in the offense and the Broncos’ new coaching staff was intrigued by his 648 rushing yards over the last six games of the regular season. There is a little added monetary incentive as well for Anderson and Hillman, who are both in the final years of their contracts.
“It’s just business as usual," Anderson said of working as the No. 1 thus far in the offseason program. “I had seven weeks [as a starter in ’14]. 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. At the end of the day, no matter what season I had last year or what season Peyton [Manning] had last year, at the end of the day we have no ring on our finger.’’