The word out of Dove Valley, at least through the media, is that Denver Broncos second-round draft pick Montee Ball is doing great through OTA’s and Mini Camp. This is surely good news. However, head coach John Fox has tried to temper the media’s determination to sensationalize anything they can to justify their existence. Coach Fox said that they [players] all look good “in their underwear,” meaning the pads aren’t even on yet.
OTA’s and Mini Camp is where the rookies get orientation to how the team operates, i.e., where the cafeteria is, where the meeting rooms are, who to see for a broken chinstrap. They also find out how practices and meetings will operate. An introduction to Dove Valley so to speak. By Mini Camp, some, if not most of the Offense has been installed and the rookies begin to see and actually perform what they have learned so far — at a very slow tempo and pace. Their reactions aren’t tested at all. They aren’t running at game speed. They are going through mental progressions and trying to get reps on seeing things from a Pro perspective for the first time in a Bronco Offense.
“Well, right now with no pads on I think I’m pretty good,” said rookie Montee Ball when asked about his progress in blitz pickup. “When we come back we’re going to put pads on, it’s going to be a different story.”
In other words, I wouldn’t draft Montee Ball with my first pick in Fantasy Football. Sure, I’d pick him up. I have a penchant for rookie Running Backs and I think he will do great things for the Broncos, but not with my first selection. My reasoning is, I don’t expect him to be the Day 1 starter and get the gist of the carries.
So who’s going to start?
With Willis McGahee’s dismissal, I think the job falls to Knowshon Moreno at the onset of Training Camp. He has the most experience and is tailor made for a Manning style Offense. He is also a trustworthy and proven pass blocker and we all know that a $20 Million investment (Peyton Manning) is worth protecting. That takes precedence over starting a rookie tailback. Per John’s Elway and Fox, Ronnie Hillman is the “Change of Pace” Back. That tells me he isn’t the starter.
That said, the starting Tailback job should change by the end of the year, simply because of the attrition rate of the Running Back position. The way I see it, the depth chart reads Moreno, Hillman, Montee Ball. I don’t think it changes by the end of Training Camp either.
Montee Ball will play a set number of plays at first and his role will increase throughout the season. It is even reasonable to expect him to be the starter before the end of the year. Just not on opening day.
Again, we can look at history for the answer. Eleven years ago, the Broncos drafted Clinton Portis in the 2nd round (51st overall) in the 2002 NFL Draft. He had a Nine-year career in the league and rushed for nearly 10,000 yards. We all know how good a Running Back Portis was coming out of college. The thing is, he didn’t start on opening day. He did play all 16 games as a rookie, but Clinton didn’t start until Week 5. The reason was, he couldn’t pass block effectively. We also saw the same thing last year with Ronnie Hillman. Pass blocking was not his forte and protecting Peyton Manning carried more importance than getting the rookie some playing time. That priority hasn’t changed.
I’m sure Portis knew how to block another player. Rudimentary skills aside, picking up blitzers coming from different positions and angles, acknowledging and understanding the blocking signals, knowing when to stay in and block or release into a checkdown pass pattern. These are all things that star Tailbacks in college don’t experience a lot of. They run the ball because they are good at it and their coach cares more about winning games and protecting his job, than teaching his Cash Cow how to pass block.
With Montee Ball, I see many similarities. Like Portis, he’s a 2nd round pick, a stud Tailback in college and comparable in size. Ball will probably have a bit more power than Portis did and be capable of a bigger workload, but like Clinton, not the starter in the Broncos opener.
As I said earlier, I expect great things from the rookie, but like Sylvester Williams, those are some big shoes to fill.
In 2002, Clinton Portis earned Rookie of the Year honors and set Bronco records for most rushing yards in a season by a rookie, with 1,508. He also has the highest rushing average in a season by a rookie, with 5.52 yards and grabbed a share of the rookie Touchdown record in a season with 15 set by Mike Anderson in 2000. A tall order for sure, but not unattainable.
It really shouldn’t matter who the starting Running Back is anyway. The Broncos will be running a Running Back by committee (RBBC) approach and the rotation will likely change to adapt the game plan each week.
So, we will see the “Full Montee” in due course Broncos Country. Just Curb Your Enthusiasm and be patient.
– Kaptain Kirk