Published: July 25, 2013
ENGLEWOOD - Around this time last year, Montee Ball was suiting up in a red practice jersey, his starting spot all but guaranteed.
But the familiarity, the position security, is all over now.
Thursday morning, Ball donned a No. 38 navy, orange and white jersey and took the field with the likes of Peyton Manning and Wes Welker for his first NFL training camp.
The 2012 Doak Walker award winner out of Wisconsin is in his rookie year with the Denver Broncos, and a starting spot is up for grabs.
"It's a little different, it's kind of like being a freshman in college," Ball said of fighting for the starting tailback spot. "That's kind of how I'm approaching it. Obviously there's a heightened sense of awareness because it's in the NFL. But I'm just doing what I did then, a little bit more and just stick with the process."
Training camp at Dove Valley is a bit different from camp in Madison, Wis. For one, when Ball took the field at 8:45 Thursday morning, 3,007 orange and blue clad fans greeted him with enthusiastic cheers.
"It makes practice a lot easier just because you want to show off a little bit, you want to do some stuff to just to get the fans into it," Ball said. "We appreciate them, so we want to show them some stuff."
With the June 13 release of Willis McGahee, the team's starting running back for the past two seasons, the Broncos have a hole to fill - and Ball is in position to step up for the slot.
The second-round pick is competing for the spot alongside Ronnie Hillman and five-year veteran Knowshon Moreno.
Hillman saw action in 14 games last season, amassing 330 yards on 85 carries with one touchdown. Moreno rushed for 525 yards on 138 carries with four touchdowns despite being limited to eight games while battling a knee injury.
Fighting off Hillman is no easy task - the second-year running back put in offseason work to better position himself for the starting gig.
"I think he has developed a pro body, which does take a while for rookies when they come into this league and he's done a tremendous job," coach John Fox said. "So, he's done nothing but strengthen my thoughts that he is capable and he looked very good today, as well as in the offseason."
Hillman opened camp in the starting slot, but Ball took quite a few snaps with quarterback Peyton Manning.
"It's going along really well, healthy competition in that room," Ball said. "There's some great players in there.
"We're almost definitely fighting for the starting job. I'm most definitely going to try to get it."
Though they're battling for the top spot, Ball said Hillman has been a good mentor during camp.
"He's helping me out a lot," Ball said. "I was asking him a lot of questions today, just about little stuff. We all know the plays, we all know what to do but it's about kind of the small details."
Ball knows that he's in a good position to earn the starting position, even if it's not for the season opener against Baltimore.
"My goal is to be the featured back," Ball said. "That's what I'm shooting for, that's what I'm working hard for and that's my goal. But if not, I most definitely just want to contribute and try to get the starting job sometime in the season."
First-round pick Sylvester Williams missed the first practice of training camp because he had not signed with the club. Williams signed his four-year $7.6 million contract shortly after practice wrapped up Thursday morning. The North Carolina product also got a $3.9 million signing bonus and another $2.2 million in guarantees. ...
Offensive tackle Ryan Clady (shoulder) was limited in practice Thursday. Fox doesn't have a timetable for his return. J.D. Walton (left ankle) and Chris Kuper (left ankle) entered camp on the physically unable to perform list. ... Manning addressed the media after practice and gave his support for teammate Von Miller. Miller faces a four-game suspension for violation of a league policy. "We have Von Miller's back, we have everybody in our organization's back," Manning said. "That's when you find out a lot about people, who sticks with you when the times are tough. You find out who the rats are, who's going to jump ship."