The Denver Broncos released their first depth chart of 2014, found here, in advance of the first pre-season game scheduled for Thursday August 7th. The Seattle Seahawks will come to town in a rare pre-season Super Bowl rematch, and despite the game not counting in the standings, you’d better believe it counts in the hearts and minds of all Broncos players, staff, and fan base.No position has gotten more attention between the start of OTA’s and now than running back, with Montee Ball penciled in to take over for the free agent departure of Knowshon Moreno. Beyond that, the picture isn’t so clear, but third-year back Ronnie Hillman has opened the year as the second back on the depth chart.
The 5’10″, 195 pound Hillman fell out of favor last season after having ball security issues, becoming a healthy scratch for six of the Broncos’ last nine regular season games and did not suit up at all during the playoff run. Myself, along with many others, have claimed the writing is on the wall for the former San Diego State Aztec with the crowd of young backs breathing down his neck, but so far in training camp he has responded to the pressure and is playing well. Despite being just 22 years old, Hillman is the most experienced back on the Broncos’ roster.
Following the guidance of his position coach Eric Studesville and the example set by Moreno, Hillman has kept battling through adversity, showing more confidence, speed, and aggressiveness throughout camp. As ESPN’s Jeff Legwold notes, Hillman admits he got complacent last season and has returned this year with a much-needed chip on his shoulder.
Studesville was quoted in the Legwold article saying, “Give a lot of credit to him, For … sitting back and looking at two years in the NFL, a talented guy who should be here, who’s demonstrated he’s got the ability to be here and wasn’t playing for whatever reason. And he found a way to turn that around and turn our eyes around … and we love what we’re seeing.”
That sort of endorsement from the Broncos’ former interim head coach is noteworthy, and unless Hillman falls apart when the lights come on it looks like he is solidly entrenched as the primary backup behind Ball. Behind him is a logjam of young backs that are scraping for reps, with promising second year back C.J. Anderson and UDFA rookie Juwan Thompson rounding out the depth chart. Thompson has worked his way into the second team rotation and turned a few heads at Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage.
Noticibly missing from the running back depth chart is local favorite and Colorado State product Kapri Bibbs, who created some noise in OTA’s but hasn’t made the expected progress early on in camp. Longshot camp-fodder backs Brennan Clay (UDFA from Oklahoma) and Jerodis Williams bring up the back end of the group but neither figure to factor in the final roster, barring a rash of injuries.
Depth is always a good thing, but the stable of unproven backs on the Broncos’ roster means Ball and Hillman must meet expectations. All signs point to Hillman getting his career back on track, much as his predecessor Moreno did in the last year and a half of his Broncos’ career. Doing so would give offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterback Peyton Manning even more play-calling options, resulting in more sleepless nights for defensive coordinators around the league.