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Broncos training camp position battles: Running back

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No doubt the focus is on the quarterbacks. But for intrigue, pure intrigue, turn to the ball carriers.

NFL: Denver Broncos-Training Camp Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Gary Kubiak and running backs go together like wine and cheese. Check that. Perhaps pizza and beer is the better comparison for this. Either way, when you think of one, the other is always mentioned.

If you’re a running back in the NFL, there is no better system to play in. The pieces are there to become a star. As is the case for numerous other backs who have played in Kubiak’s system over the last 20 years.

That alone makes running back the most intriguing battle at Denver Broncos training camp.

No doubt the focus is on the quarterbacks and even the offensive line. But for intrigue, pure intrigue, turn to the ball carriers.

The expectation is that C.J. Anderson will take the contract extension he got and compile his best season yet. After that, it’s anyone’s best guess.

With that in mind, here is my prognostication on where the running backs stand thus far in regard to making the team in 2016.

Locked In:

C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker

Anderson and Booker have been the best two backs through the first seven practices of training camp. They also have been the two most consistent. Some have mentioned that Booker could even compete for the No. 1 spot with how he’s looked. That’s a stretch at this point, but if Booker remains consistent and impresses, it could happen. First, he has to start getting reps with the twos. But they’re easing him in and he’s impressed.

The first preseason game next Thursday in Chicago against the Bears will show us what Kubiak and the offensive coaches think in terms of the depth chart.

When Booker was drafted my prediction was it would be Anderson at No. 1 and Booker at No. 2.

“He’s just asking a bunch of questions, which is always good,” Anderson said after practice on Thursday. “It’s something that I did when I was asking Knowshon (Moreno) a bunch of questions. Knowshon was five years in at the time. I give him my understanding and I help him.

“I give him everything I can, give him the tools, especially in our meetings. In our meetings, that’s where he gets all of his questions out. I remember being under somebody’s wing like that. It’s good to be under somebody’s wing. He’s under my wing, and I can help him out so he can help our football team.”

Having seen both on the field and what they’re doing, I have no doubt this is how Denver will enter the regular season.

Likely Candidates:

Kapri Bibbs and Juwan Thompson

Both are fan favorites due to their penchant to do whatever is asked of them - namely play and play well on special teams.

Kubiak says if you want to make a name for yourself, do it there first and prove you can do it. Look no further than Terrell Davis. That’s the value both Bibbs and Thompson bring and the main reason both are kept on the roster.

In Bibbs’ case, he’s been right behind Anderson and Booker throughout camp in terms of performance. He’s had some of the best moments of the position so far and gives reason to feel excitement. In fact, Bibbs has started to take reps away from Ronnie Hillman with the No. 2 offense.

“I’m very hungry. I’m very, very hungry,” Bibbs said. “I think that’s just from these past two years where I thought I was going to get my opportunity, but that wasn’t what it was. Now this year they are telling that this is the year that I go out and showcase and have my opportunity, I am going to take full advantage of that. I’m going to go out and get it.”

Thompson doesn’t get as many reps, but he has his moments. The key for him is consistency. But the other value Thompson brings is as the backup fullback to Andy Janovich. That versatility could pay off in the regular season and playoffs.

“It’s very beneficial,” Thompson said. “I just like that people can see my talent and not just at running back, but at other places that’ll benefit the team. I just like to get the ball in my hand or at least help the offense make some plays.”

On The Bubble:

Ronnie Hillman

Hillman has had a brutal camp and done nothing to show why John Elway re-signed him.

He’s been tackled in non-tackling drills. No, seriously. You can’t make that stuff up. That takes a special kind of talent.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Hillman’s been called out and pulled from drills for not working hard enough.

He’s also dealt with a back injury after he got slammed by Zaire Anderson on Sunday.

Hillman also brings no experience or value on special teams, despite getting some chances at this point in camp. He’s been unimpressive in that area. For those who say, “Give him a chance as a returner.” No. And why? There are guys who have done it before and do it pretty dang well. Jordan Norwood and Bralon Addison also get most of the reps at practice. So that won’t happen.

Final Prediction:

Anderson, Booker and Bibbs will be the three running backs on the roster, with Thompson as the fourth but also a backup to Janovich. Both Bibbs and Thompson will also contribute on special teams.

That means Hillman is out. In terms of the hit to Denver’s salary cap when that happens, it’s only $500,000, according to overthecap.com.

Sound off in the comments section and give us your predictions on who you believe the Broncos final group of running backs will be!