After carrying the ball over 650 times in his last two seasons for Wisconsin, Montee Ball isn’t going to take it easy on his rookie season with the Denver Broncos, more than likely to jump ahead of the rest of the running backs (Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee) and become the starter for the AFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
John Fox does have Peyton Manning as his quarterback, but he’s quite a conservative head coach, which means he’ll prefer grinding the ball on the ground any day if he knows he has someone to rely on. Ball was a workhorse for the Badgers in 2011 and 2012, taking them to the Rose Bowl twice while scoring 55 touchdowns and rushing for 3753 yards. He’s ready for a #1 workload, even though chances are he’ll burn out quickly if he’s not used the right way.
I have taken Montee after practice each day and just kind of going through plays, going through games, getting him comfortable hearing audibles at the line of scrimmage. We are going to count on him in a big way this year. He’s a rookie, but Coach Fox is not going to bring him along slowly. We are going to put him in there and make him a contributor this year. So, the more repetitions we can get out here talking football, talking scenarios, I think the more comfortable he’ll be once the regular season gets here.
What about the rest? Hillman is more of the pace-switching back, getting 84 touches (for 327 yards) during his rookie season, and is expected to see a little bit of growth in his role this season, but not by much. Knowshon Moreno looks like the favorite to win the backup position, even though his 525 yards last season were inferior to Willis McGahee and his 731 yards. But age and injuries have slowed McGahee down, and the arrival of Ball might have pushed him to the bottom of the order when it comes to running plays.
The Broncos are a pass-first team; you can’t be anything else with Manning taking the snaps, regardless of who is the head coach. But with the arrival of Ball, McGahee, making $4.5 million for the next couple of seasons, seems more and more redundant, especially at 31 and after playing only 10 games last season, which might mean that we won’t see him feature much for Denver this year before a goodbye coming in about 12 months.