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NFL 5 are in the mix to be Broncos' starting tailback



Published: Tue, August 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



For nine of the last 10 seasons, Denver has been in the top 10 in rushing.

DENVER (AP) -- The Denver Broncos have a history of turning no-names into stars at the tailback position. This year, they won't have to do that.

Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, Ron Dayne, Quentin Griffin and Maurice Clarett have all been heard from before, and all have the credentials to win the starting job and become Denver's next 1,000-yard rusher.

Along with the defensive line, this is the most intriguing position battle in camp.

Anderson, who is fully rehabilitated from a groin injury that kept him out last year, is sharing reps with Bell on the first team.

But Griffin, who began last season as the starter, also has a chance. Dayne, who came in as a free agent, has looked pretty good in camp.

Only Clarett, the rookie with the troubled past, has struggled a bit, but everyone knows what he did during his lone year of college.

"We have five guys that have a legitimate chance at getting some playing time," coach Mike Shanahan said. "Right now, it's on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, a guy will have a good practice and the next time he'll have a decent practice. I've been impressed with all of them."

About the five contenders

The list of candidates starts with Anderson, who rushed for 1,487 yards and was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 2000.

But the brief return of Terrell Davis in 2001 and the emergence of Clinton Portis in 2002 and '03 knocked Anderson out of the rotation, back to fullback.

He was primed to compete for the tailback spot last season, but tore his groin in a preseason game and had a full year of rehab.

"I've been real patient and just over the years, I've had some mishaps and some setbacks," Anderson said. "That's part of life. I'm still here and I'm out there now, and I'm happy."

A close second to Anderson is Bell, a second-round pick last year who was stifled by injuries early in the season, but showed the explosiveness most people expected from him during a four-game stint at the end of the season during which he ran for 308 yards and had a 58-yard touchdown catch.

"Last year, I kind of waited for a chance to do something," Bell said. "I want to be in the mix right at the get-go this time."

It figures that either Bell or Anderson would have to have a major slip up for the starting job to go to someone else, but there are qualified candidates if that happens.

Griffin was the starter last year, but ran into a fumbling problem and was being eased out in favor of Reuben Droughns when he sustained a knee injury that ended his season.

Dayne is intriguing, only because he had the talent to win a Heisman Trophy. He never shined in his five years with the New York Giants, but has shown surprising speed and burst over the first few practices of training camp with Denver.

Clarett has looked a bit confused over his first few practices. The Broncos took a chance on him, using a third-round pick on him when many scouts thought he wouldn't go any earlier than in the sixth round.

The tailback, who has been in constant turmoil -- and not on the football field -- since he led Ohio State to the national title in 2002, signed an interesting contract, full of incentives and with no signing bonus. His bet is that he can make the team and eventually contribute enough to make his money.

Needs to work hard

"I know that I still have a lot of work to do," Clarett said. "There are definitely plenty of things that I do not know, and I could also be in better condition, especially with controlling my weight. Right now, I know that the best thing that I can do is focus on this next month and practice hard every single day."

The Broncos have been ranked in the top 10 in rushing in all but one of Shanahan's previous 10 seasons here.

They have produced five 1,000-yard rushers -- Davis, Portis, Anderson, Olandis Gary and Droughns, who was traded to Cleveland in the offseason. Of those five, only Portis was picked in the second round or higher.

That bodes well for whoever wins the race among these five backs. And it could bode well for the backup ... and maybe even the backup's backup.

"Everybody here has something to bring to the table," Shanahan said. "You don't know what they can do until they get into a live situation. You can get a feel for them, but until they get the pads on and get a chance to go against the opposition, you really don't know for sure."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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