DENVER -- In the span of roughly two weeks Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball has gone from a position of pushing CJ Anderson for some carries in the starting offense to squarely on the roster bubble.
And following Thursday night's preseason finale, a 22-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, there was a moment when Ball could only take a deep breath, pause and try to frame what his predicament has become.
"Yeah, it is [surprising], I didn't expect it to come this way," Ball said. "I kind of wish I had more opportunities the last couple games, everything was forced toward the end, [I'm] just dealing with the cards I was dealt."
Ball got 16 carries Thursday night, or the same number of carries he had in the first three preseason games combined. He finished with just 27 yards rushing against the Cardinals behind reserves in the offensive front.
Max Garcia, a rookie who has played at guard for virtually all of the offseason program and the preseason, was in at center in the second half. In all the Broncos rushed for 49 yards on their 24 carries.
"Obviously the numbers aren't good, we didn't run the ball a lick in the game," said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. "I've got to look at the big picture ... me watching the game I don't know how many fair opportunities he had. I know he played hard, he played on special teams, he did everything he could do ... let's be fair to him too, you've got to have room to run scheme-wise, we've got to go back and look at it scheme-wise."
For his preseason Ball had 68 yards on his 32 carries -- a 2.1 yards per carry average -- and now must wait and see if that "big picture" will include him when the Broncos trim the roster to 53 players.
The Broncos are crowded at the position and the choice likely comes down to a two-tiered decision. With Anderson, Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson as the top three backs, the Broncos would have to elect to keep four for Ball to have a chance.
And at that point the decision comes down to Ball and Kapri Bibbs for that fourth running back spot, if the Broncos don't decide they like a back who is cut by another team in the coming days.
"Only thing I can control is what I do on the field," Ball said. "It was tough out there, I already talked to my running back coach, I did everything right. I feel like I can help this team win that's for sure. But it's a business, business comes down to 53."
August was not kind to Ball, a former second-round pick in the 2013 draft. He spent the offseason program solidly as the No. 2 back, but as Hillman began to show more and more of a comfort level in the zone scheme -- he finished the preseason at 7.4 yards per carry -- Ball was moved to No. 3 and then Thompson passed him as well. Add in the fact Thompson can play fullback as well to go with a full allotment of special teams duties and Ball finds himself on shaky roster ground.
Ball was limited to five games last season -- he opened the season as the starter – because of a groin injury and rushed for 559 yards as a rookie in '13.
"It was a good day to put some stuff out there on tape," Ball said. "All I can do now but sit back and wait, and if it's here it's here."