Training Camp Battles: Shifting into Second Gear

Lerentee McCray is but one of the players that you will want to watch during preseason. - USA TODAY Sports

Every fan knew coming into training camp which positions were up for grabs, but a week into training camp some things have changed a bit and some situations have gotten downright interesting.

Prior to training camp there were several obvious positions that were up for grabs, running back, fourth wide receiver, and maybe middle linebacker if you weren't sold on what the team had there.

Since training camp has gotten underway there has been movement at several other positions as well, there is the obvious movement at center that has been the cause of two post camp-start signings, strong safety, defensive end, tight end and in the absence of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, there is an open battle at a jam packed cornerback position.

Running Back

Front Runner:

Knowshon Moreno

It may come as some surprise, given that the Denver Broncos invested a a third round draft pick in 2012 and a second round draft pick in 2013, that the man that they invested a first round pick in 2009 in is the front runner.

Veteran savvy has been displayed, but history tells that eventually someone will need to replace him due to injury. This is a contract year for Moreno and the absence of Willis McGahee left a lane open that perhaps only Moreno can fill for now.

He can split wide, play fullback, tailback, h-back and special teams. The man was built for this team and will make the 53 man roster unless something goes terribly wrong for him.

Second Place:

Ronnie Hillman

He may be the starter at camp, but I don't see him as the man leading the battle. Hillman bulked up, the man probably has less than seven percent body fat on him. He is displaying the ability to block, he's showing perfect cuts and despite being the youngest player on the team for the second year in a row he is looking like a veteran.

The start of his second week has produced quite the argument that Hillman could become the front runner during preseason. I still feel like Moreno will be the starter day one, similar to how the Broncos started Kyle Orton despite the fact that Tim Tebow was the best quarterback on the team in 2011 (I kid).

The Rookie:

Montee Ball

Ball has been having a rookie season thus far. Expectations may be too high for the third running back off the board in the 2013 draft, he has not looked bad by any means. He's got blocking down, but he seems to get swallowed at the line of scrimmage and could possibly be having a difficult time with Peyton Manning's audibles.

Then again, I wouldn't put it past the man actually coming into his own in the preseason while teeing off on second and third string defenses.

The Longshot:

Jeremiah Johnson

The annual Jeremiah Johnson report, he looks great in training camp, looks good in preseason, makes the practice squad and then hmph. This year the practice squad is not an option for Johnson, he'll have to make the 53 man roster or not at all. Johnson is on his annual successful tour of duty as a Broncos running back, but injuries have kept him out of practice the two of the eight training camp days.

The Forgotten:

Jacob Hester

If you think that Johnson has a place as the fourth running back on the team, you have forgotten Hester. He can split wide, play fullback, tailback, h-back and special teams. The man was built for this team and will make the 53 man roster unless something goes terribly wrong for him.

Wide Receiver (fourth)

The Front Runner:

Tavarres King

If all things were even King may be equal, if not a little behind another player on the roster, but Denver invested a 2013 fifth round draft pick in him. He hasn't disappointed yet, there is no reason that he shouldn't be the front runner for that fourth wide receiver spot, but how is he going to look on special teams?

Can he match what Matt Willis was able to do last year? And before you come back with a snide reply on Willis, he was in the face of nearly every punt returner and kick returner immediately after they caught that ball and he was paramount in downing punts.

Second place:

Greg Orton

The People's Champ is back again, what hurts Orton is that he still has practice squad eligibility. He has yet to disappoint for a moment in camp and you will see that he deserves a spot on the team in the preseason. However, taking a fifth wide receiver on the 53 man roster does not make sense when there is an abundance of talent elsewhere. As well as players in other positions who could play receiver in a pinch.

The Longshot:

Andre Caldwell

Caldwell could be a fourth or a third on nearly every team in the NFL. He has the talent, but for whatever reason has barely made it to a game day roster for Denver some games. Caldwell obviously wants to be on the Broncos or he wouldn't be here. He's got to fight off some younger guys to make that happen and convince Denver to carry five receivers on the 53 man roster, with him being the fifth.

The Forgotten:

Gerell Robinson

Brock Osweiler's favorite receiver will probably have a spot on the practice squad as long as Osweiler is on the team. He is talented and this preseason will be another good time to watch the Brock and Gerell show.

The Others:

Lamaar Thomas, Kemonte' Bateman and Quincy McDuffie

I'd give my stamp of approval to Bateman out of these three, though McDuffie has had his moments (no pun intended). Any of these receivers would be welcome additions to the practice squad, but how many of those eight slots can you give to receivers?

Tight End

Front Runner:

Julius Thomas

If Thomas can stay healthy, preseason should make it pointless to not have him on the field. You've undoubtedly heard of all of his daily accolades by now. Putting him here as the front runner may not make complete sense as Joel Dreessen will likely be on the field if the Broncos are running the ball. However, he has taken his annual spot as the best tight end in camp.

We will see how that pans out, but he is a real diamond in the rough. I love watching him play, the guy is straight talent.

The Forgotten:

Virgil Green

There are packages to put Green in that have yet to be seen (or that we are allowed to talk about specifically), but Green hasn't disappeared. Denver will likely carry four tight ends on the 53 man roster and Green will be one of the four.

Defensive End

Front Runner:

Robert Ayers

Ayers here may be a duh, but there is someone closing in on him very quickly and those that aren't absorbing every morsel from training camp may have no idea.

Second place:

Malik Jackson

I've been pounding the desk for Jackson for awhile now and some of you will remember. I made a bet with the writers here that Jackson will be starting by game three of the preseason. We will see how that pans out, but he is a real diamond in the rough. I love watching him play, the guy is straight talent.

The Rookie:

Quanterus Smith

He was really the talk of the draft after Montee Ball, but we haven't heard much and Thursday he left the field with an injured knee (nothing serious). He is not going to be an immediate replacement for Elvis Dumervil, but then again Dumervil wasn't incredible in his rookie season either.

The Forgotten:

Jeremy Beal

You know who Alfred Williams loves? Jeremy Beal. You know who Alfred Williams doesn't like? Derek Wolfe (and Sylvester Williams for that matter). So take that for what it is worth. Beal has not been bad at all in camp, he just hasn't been come-out-of-nowhere, we need this guy in our Sunday lineup good.

Strong Safety

Front Runner:

Duke Ihenacho

The term clinic was coined for what Ihenacho has done thus far in training camp. Coming from nowhere, well, the practice squad and just making hopeful wide receivers lives miserable. He is all over the place and this is in coverage. Strong safety is more like a linebacker, so a good coverage strong safety just makes an already great secondary damn near perfect.

After an offseason mistake nearly got the book thrown at him he has been cleared, but nagging remnants of his practice injury have cursed his place on the depth chart.

Second place:

Mike Adams

Adams hasn't done anything to earn a demotion, Ihenacho has just been that much better. I know that for whatever reason around here Adams isn't a favorite, but PFF graded him out positively for every game last season. Pointing out that he especially replaced Brian Dawkins well. There will be packages for both Ihenacho and Adams and given Ihenacho's inexperience, I don't see the point of not having Adams in the corps

The Longshot:

Quentin Jammer

In certain ways, Jammer isn't even supposed to be here. He is supposed to be a cornerback, right? The versatility provides Jammer a much more likely way of making the team. As long as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is injured, Denver can't displace Jammer. Jammer likely wouldn't have been brought in if the Broncos were completely satisfied with Adams work. Ihenacho just came out of nowhere and took the number one spot with a vice grip.

The Forgotten:

Quinton Carter

Carter really is a forgotten member in Denver, Carter started as a rookie in 2011. He was good too, no one finished their year off stronger than Carter in 2011. Except maybe Robert Ayers. Gone and forgotten though. After an offseason mistake nearly got the book thrown at him he has been cleared, but nagging remnants of his practice injury have cursed his place on the depth chart.

Others:

David Bruton & Ross Rasner

Bruton was re-signed in March for three years and with his special teams prowess, he isn't going anywhere. Rasner is an undrafted rookie and there may be room for him on the practice squad. Rasner has spent camp earning a living by tormenting fellow rookie, quarterback Zac Dysert.

Who I forgot to Mention:

Jacob Tamme

I still think that there is a place on the roster for four tight ends, given that the Broncos have three tight end formations that they pass out of.

College Free Agent Most Likely to Make 53 Man Roster:

Lerentee McCray

I declared McCray for the same thing as soon as he was picked up. We shall see, there are only so many linebackers this team needs. A possible absence of Von Miller for the beginning part of the season could make McCray a necessity on the roster.

Middle Linebackers Depth Chart:

Nate Irving then Stewart Bradley then Steven Johnson

Johnson can currently be seen playing every single linebacker position in the rotation, I feel comfortable saying that his spot on the team is safe.

One More Player You Will Like More This Season:

Danny Trevathan

If Wesley Woodyard's position weren't so solidified with the team, I'd have Trevathan out ranking him. I still see Trevathan as the starting nickle linebacker.

Best Guess for the Practice Squad:

Kemonte' Bateman, Greg Orton, Manase Foketi, Zac Dysert, Quentin Saulsberry, Sealver Siliga, Ross Rasner and Nigel Malone.
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