If the top two questions surrounding the Denver Broncos coming out of Monday night’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons are about Peyton Manning and the defense, then the third question has to be: where’s Ronnie Hillman? Hillman is a rookie running back for the Broncos who was drafted because of his pass catching ability and his explosive speed.
Hillman has been inactive for the first two games of the season for a couple of reasons. He suffered a hamstring injury in training camp that limited him in the preseason and the Broncos are being extremely cautious in making sure that he is completely healthy. Hillman relies on his speed and quickness, so that hamstring has to be 100 percent before he can play again. The second reason is pass protection and blitz pickup, which is an area that rookie running backs typically struggle with. The Broncos want to see Hillman improve in that area and be able to protect Manning.
Having said all of that, fans should expect to see Hillman on Sunday versus the Houston Texans. There has not been anything official from the Broncos, but the signs point to Hillman making his pro debut. The first indication is that it appears Knowshon Moreno may have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. After his first quarter fumble on Monday night, he was used sparingly and Lance Ball played a greater role in the second half. In addition to the fumble, Moreno has looked tentative again. I don’t know what happens, but he always looks fast in the preseason and then he looks terrible once the real games begin. Because of that, the Broncos may want a guy who can make some explosive plays out of the backfield and that’s Hillman.
The second reason is the fact that Manning is going to adjust to what happened last week with the interceptions, which probably means more check downs and passes to the backs. If that is in the game plan, then it makes sense for Hillman to be in the game because he can turn a five-yard flat pass into a 50-yard touchdown. In addition, Hillman can spell Willis McGahee and take a handoff the distance on any given play.
The Denver Broncos are still going to be concerned about his pass protection, but they can do some things with tight-ends to help with that. The time has come to put Hillman in the game.
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