ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The math is both simple and conflicted. There is one ball and a lot of people who want to carry it for the Denver Broncos.
And when it comes to how the Broncos will actually divide up their carries in a run game that is expected to be both active and productive, history might not be all that great a guide to follow.
OK, the facts:
The Broncos want to run it plenty in the coming season. They ran it 33 times in the preseason opener Friday night, and in comparison had just five games last season when they ran the ball at least 33 times.
C.J. Anderson is the starter, the No. 1 guy. He came into the offseason program as the starter, has maintained that position through the opening weeks of training camp and is expected to remain at the top of the depth chart into the regular season.
Running backs coach Eric Studesville certainly believes one back can be The Man in the offense, but he also subscribes to the hot-hand rotation in games if the separation between the top backs isn’t clearly, and consistently, defined by how those backs practice and play.
The Broncos liked their depth at running back when the offseason began and like it even more now. Anderson, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman have all been the No. 1 at times in their careers with the Broncos, and the team also believes Jeremy Stewart and Juwan Thompson could serve as the lead back if each needed to at any point.
Kubiak has decribed it as: “(Anderson) is doing his job. But I think after that, I think on any given day, I think it’s been deep as far as watching all of them -- not just Ronnie and Montee. … We’re going to play them all."
There is also the notion that Kubiak, like most playcallers in the NFL, would simply prefer to push the majority of the carries, like the 70-percent level, to one back if he can. DeMarco Murray had 77.2 percent of the Dallas Cowboys' carries last season and Le'Veon Bell had 68.6 percent of the Steelers’ carries last season.
And this is where history might not be all that helpful to those trying to predict how things will go for the Broncos this year.
In 20 previous seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator or head coach, Kubiak has had a running back take 55 percent of the carries nine times, and six of those seasons came before 2003. In 2003, Clinton Portis had 53.4 percent of the Broncos’ carries on the way to a robust 1,591 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.
As head coach of the Texans, Kubiak’s teams had a back with at least 55 percent of the carries in three of his eight seasons – Steve Slaton (62.0 percent) in 2008 to go with Arian Foster in 2010 (77.3 percent) and 2012 (69.1 percent).
After Friday’s preseason victory over the Seahawks ,it was Hillman who re-asserted himself into the mix. “Ronnie’s got that gear, maybe that the other guys in our group don’t have in terms of getting the ball to the edge and those type of things," Kubiak said.
So, while the Broncos do have a No. 1 back in Anderson, they have a crowd of backs they like, no matter how the cuts eventually come, and only one ball to give them.
“We’ll just have to see," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. “We have options … and we’ll just see what’s best."