By Justin Adams
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – As the Denver Broncos get ready to begin their 60th season with the beginning of training camp on July 18, here are several training camp battles to keep an eye on.
Starting Running Back (Phillip Lindsay vs Royce Freeman)
We’ll start with the biggest question mark heading into training camp and it’s at the starting running back position. Last season, Phillip Lindsay took the starting running back spot from Royce Freeman midseason and didn’t look back. Lindsay’s speed and tenacity helped him rush for 1,037 yards with nine touchdowns en route to becoming the first undrafted offensive rookie in NFL history to make a Pro Bowl.
But Lindsay is coming off a wrist injury that kept him out of the season finale and all of the offseason activities. This could open a door for Freeman who rushed for 521 yards and five touchdowns last season. Freeman is also a bigger back than Lindsay at 229 pounds, which could help him become the Broncos leader in carries this season.
Backup Quarterback (Drew Lock vs Kevin Hogan)
When the Broncos drafted Drew Lock in the second round of this year’s draft, he was seen as the future of the team. But Lock will have to show the coaches that he has mastered the offense well enough to beat out Kevin Hogan, the Broncos backup quarterback from a year ago.
Hogan, re-signed with the team in the offseason, has a leg up on Lock in playing experience. Hogan appeared in eight games and started in one game in his four-year career. In his career, he has 621 yards with four touchdowns and seven interceptions.
It would be an upset if Lock doesn’t beat out Hogan for the backup position, but the two quarterback traded reps as the backup quarterback in OTAs and minicamp.
Broncos Third Tight End (Troy Fumagalli vs Jake Butt)
This is entirely based on if the Broncos will keep three or four tight ends on the roster. With the Broncos drafting Noah Fant in the first round and re-signing veteran tight end Jeff Heuerman, the battle for the third tight end position will be between two former fifth-round picks who are coming back from season-ending injuries.
Butt, the Broncos fifth-round pick in 2017, has shown flashes of what made him the John Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football, hauling in eight catches for 85 yards. But he tore his ACL in a walk-through in the special teams portion of practice. This is his third ACL injury in the last four years.
Fumagalli, the Broncos fifth-round pick in 2018, missed all of last year due to a sports hernia injury. He has the ability to be a productive pass catcher based on his numbers at Wisconsin, where he caught at least 40 passes for 500 yards in each of his last two seasons.
Backup Safety (Jamal Carter vs Su’a Cravens)
When the Broncos traded for Su’a Cravens last year, they had to wait until the ninth game of the season before he appeared in a game. In the five games he played, he only recorded 18 tackles with one fumble recovery. The season ended for Cravens prematurely as he was inactive for the final three games.
Jamal Carter’s season was over before It began as he tore his hamstring in the first preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. Carter limped off the field when he was making a tackle along the sideline. He will have a great chance to make the roster not only due to his play on defense, but also his contributions to special teams.
Backup Inside Linebacker (Joe Dineen vs Alexander Johnson)
With the starting inside linebackers of Josey Jewell and Todd Davis in place, the backup inside linebacker position is wide open. Alexander Johnson spent the majority of last season on the practice squad, only appearing in one game against the Houston Texans.
Joe Dineen is an undrafted free agent pickup from the Kansas Jayhawks. Last season, he averaged 12.2 tackles per game, which was the most in the Big 12 Conference. If he could continue to rack up the tackles in preseason play and display some coverage skills, then he has a great shot to make the final roster.