The Denver Broncos were impressed enough with second-round pick Montee Ball during the offseason program that they released veteran running back Willis McGahee on Thursday, the final day of the team's minicamp.
The 31-year-old McGahee rushed for 1,930 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons in Denver, starting 23 games.
"It's never easy to part ways with a veteran player who made so many positive contributions to our team and community," Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said in a statement. "I appreciate all of the competitiveness, toughness and leadership Willis brought to the Broncos. He was an integral part of our team's turnaround during the past two seasons, and I wish him the best as he continues his NFL career."
An 11-year veteran, McGahee has also played for the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens, scoring 63 rushing touchdowns in 130 career games.
McGahee's release vaults Ball, a second-round pick in April out of Wisconsin, and Ronnie Hillman, a third-round selection in 2012, to the top of the depth chart. Veteran Knowshon Moreno's chances of making the season-opening roster also improved with McGahee's release.
Four days after declaring McGahee the "big back" and Hillman the "change-of-pace back," Elway and head coach John Fox secured Ball in the second round of the draft and dubbed him the "three-down back." The all-time leader in touchdowns among Division I backs, Ball proved durable despite a massive workload. His arrival put last year's team-leading rushers, McGahee and Moreno, on notice.
Ball, who signed his rookie contract later Thursday, said he was ready for the healthy competition for snaps.
"Honestly, right now, we all want to start and we all want to play," he said. "It's a healthy competition for sure because off the field, we're all good buddies and friends, but on the field, it's just trying to fight for that position."
Ball also spoke about encouragement he has received from quarterback Peyton Manning.
"Oh yeah, all the time," he said. "He shoots me some text messages. He just tells me, the most important thing is don't become complacent. A lot of players come in to the league and feel a sense of entitlement. He told me just to keep working. Really, we had that long talk during that golf outing we had because I was on the same team as him."
Now, it looks like Ball will be on the same field with Manning most of the time, as well.
--The Broncos also announced the signing of third-round pick cornerback Kayvon Webster.