How will the Denver Broncos split carries between Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III? Even the players aren't sure

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – One of the biggest questions facing the Denver Broncos’ first-year coaching staff is how it will divide the workload for running backs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III.

It’s a bit of a mystery to those who play fantasy football, to opponents who will try to defend the Broncos, and even a little to Williams and Gordon. Neither played a snap in the preseason, and they each totaled 203 carries last season.

Their most gamelike work came in a smattering of two-minute drills and 11-on-11 portions of practices when the Broncos’ starting offense faced its starting defense, as well as one joint practice with the Dallas Cowboys.

“I think they have a plan on what they want heading in, but as far as the rotation goes, I really don’t know," Gordon said. “I think they want Vonte to be the guy, but we do rotate. He’ll take the first series, and then the second series with the [starting offense], I’ll take. Sometimes we switch, but you know kind of how it is.”

Gordon said he might study how new head coach Nathaniel Hackett ran things in Green Bay, where he was the Packers’ offensive coordinator the past three seasons.

“My mom says just go out here and compete and go as hard as I can,” Gordon said. “I don’t know what the future holds other than that."

Last season in Green Bay, AJ Dillon had 187 carries and five touchdowns, while Aaron Jones had 171 carries and four TDs while also missing two games.

In 2020, Jones rushed for 1,104 yards with nine touchdowns and had 82 more carries than Jamaal Williams. In 2019, Jones had 129 more carries than Williams on the way to 1,084 yards rushing to go with a league-leading 16 rushing touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hovered between 526 and 569 pass attempts in each of those three seasons on the way to three 4,000-yard passing seasons, as well as two MVP awards.

Hackett has promised only to try to keep Williams and Gordon busy, and has also tossed Mike Boone’s name into the conversation as a third option in the running game. Hackett also promised to unleash quarterback Russell Wilson in any way possible.

“I wish we could have a bunch of footballs out there and give it to all kinds of people," Hackett said. “It’s not just about one guy. We want to be able to use multiple people. We want to put maybe three halfbacks out there, maybe three tight ends, you never know. I think it’s all about being multiple and getting your best guys out there as much as you possibly can."

The anticipation for that involvement extends beyond the running backs.

“I get more and more excited every time we step on the field with those guys, whether it’s one guy on the field or both guys on the field," offensive coordinator Justin Outten said. “It’s going to be a pitch count throughout the season and making sure we are very smart with those guys."

It may come down to what’s needed in the moment, as well as who has the hot hand. The tackle-busting Williams is expected to be, as even Gordon knows, the first option.

But the 29-year-old Gordon arrived at training camp in shape and intent on carving out as big a role as possible. He told general manager George Paton he wasn't "going to lay down." Gordon has flashed as a reliable option in the passing game and continues to find the goal line – he has 20 total touchdowns in 31 games with the Broncos.

The Broncos have shown limited snaps with Williams and Gordon in the formation at the same time, and Hackett has said he intends to line up running backs and tight ends out wide at times, depending on the matchup.

“When I turn on the film and watch Javonte, I am like, ‘wow, this guy is amazing, he’s special,'" Wilson said. “Just watching his decision making, his cuts and his vision. … He’s been amazing just to watch, and he’s a true pro. … Melvin is special too … he’s been unbelievable. I’ve known Melvin for years since Wisconsin. ... you just see them pound the rock."

For the running backs, the philosophy is simple.

“You never know how the future will play out with anything, but you just have to go out there and ball out," Gordon said. “You have to make every opportunity count, whether it’s the same or less as last year.

“[Hackett] told me coming in, it’s about the Super Bowl. It’s about winning the Super Bowl, and we are going to do whatever is best for the team. I’ve bought into that 100% because I want the ring more than anything."