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Broncos' camp Question No. 3: How will Gordon and Lindsay divvy the tailback touches?

Melvin Gordon's contract says he's No. 1. But Phillip Lindsay's back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons say he's a No. 1 back, too.
Credit: AP

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The backup, the guy pushed to the side so he could make room for the $9 million man, gained 1,011 yards rushing last year and 1,037 the year before that.

Look at it this way, Phillip Lindsay: You’re now the best No. 2 running back in the NFL.

Melvin Gordon is the Broncos’ new starting running back. At least he better be with the $9 million the Broncos are paying him this year, or $8.25 more than Lindsay.

Which leads to the 3rd biggest question in our 9-question series on Broncos training camp: How will Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay share the running back position? 

"When camp comes around it’s going to be battle," Lindsay said in an interview with 9NEWS in late-March. "I’m not just going to sit there and give somebody the job. They can. But I’m going to go out there and I’m going to battle."

Lindsay, Gordon and Broncos veteran players will report Tuesday for COVID-19 testing and if all goes well, they will be able to start training camp on August 3.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (30) breaks free from the grasp of Detroit Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44) for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

RELATED: Shurmur on running backs Gordon and Lindsay: 'We intend to use both of them'

Even though Lindsay overcame all odds as a 5-foot-7 ¼, 185-pound undrafted free agent to attain back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in his first two NFL seasons, he was knocked down a peg on the depth chart in March when the Broncos signed Gordon to a two-year, all-but-fully guaranteed $16 million deal.

Gordon is more sturdily built at 6-foot-1, 210 and is a former first-round draft pick who is not only a strong runner when healthy but is an asset in the passing game as both a blocker and receiver.

On passing downs last year, Lindsay was removed in favor of bigger back Royce Freeman.

'I can catch the ball, I just have to get the opportunity to do it," Lindsay said.

"I think he’s going to continue to be a phenomenal player," Gordon said of Lindsay in his interview with 9NEWS in late-March. "The people in Denver are going to continue to love him. I know for sure he’s going to keep rolling. He was at the Pro Bowl, we were there together. Cool dude. I’m just excited to team up with him and see what we can do."

Maybe Gordon gets 15 carries and 5 catches in a game while Lindsay gets 8 to 10 carries and one or two catches. Maybe with Gordon playing 16 games only once in his previous five seasons with the Chargers, Lindsay will get a game or two where he is again the lead back.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Melvin Gordon is tackled by Denver Broncos linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Denver.

RELATED: Broncos positional outlook: Running backs

The one difficulty in having Gordon and Lindsay co-exist is Lindsay is not a third-down, receiver-out-the-backfield, perimeter back the way, say, Austin Ekeler was as Gordon’s complement the past three years with the Chargers.

Lindsay, despite his size, is best running between the tackles and running often. As Gordon is. Given their skill sets, it would almost fit better if Lindsay were the first- and second-down runner and Gordon played the third-down role.

Except the Broncos aren’t paying $9 million in 2020 dollars for a part-time running back to spell on third downs. And so Lindsay will have to adjust his game as the backup.

"I’ve heard this stuff my whole entire life," said Lindsay, who grew up in the Denver area before going on to star for the Colorado Buffaloes. "And it’s never ever panned out how everybody has wanted it to pan out."

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