Making judgments about the final roster and starting jobs based on mini-camps in May and June is always dangerous, that’s why coaches won’t do it; however, we have to talk about something until training camp begins. The Denver Broncos’ roster is loaded and in some ways, that makes it more difficult on these types of projections.
No one has been higher on running back Montee Ball than me, but it is hard to ignore what Ronnie Hillman is doing in OTAs. When the Broncos drafted Hillman a year ago, there were high hopes, but he struggled to adjust to the NFL game. He also was set back with an injury in training camp and spent much of his rookie season playing catch-up.
Fast-forward to 2013 and Hillman looks like a different player, according to the people who have seen some of the practices. For one thing, he’s put on some much-needed weight in an effort to stand up better to the rigors of NFL football. Hillman had added that bulk while keeping his speed, which is often hard to do.
The Broncos are going to play extremely fast, as we’ve been talking about for months now, and Hillman fits that scheme perfectly. If, for example, the Broncos are running the hurry up and they have the opposing defense gasping for air, then Hillman is going to be very tough to deal with. Whether it’s a handoff on a stretch play or a reception in the flat, Hillman is going to be a nightmare for defenses who are all ready dead tired from chasing receivers all over the field.
The biggest factor working against Hillman as an every down back was his size and inability to run inside the tackles, but that may not be the case anymore. We’ve already talked about his additional weight, and those who have seen the practices over the past couple of weeks have said that Hillman is hitting the holes and making decisive cuts.
The other thing to remember is the playoff game versus the Baltimore Ravens; when most of his teammates were struggling, Hillman was having his best day as a pro. He ran for 83 yards after replacing an injured Knowshon Moreno and most of those yards came on tough, inside runs.
The Broncos are counting on both Hillman and Ball to be a one-two punch, but the thought has been that Ball would be the starter and Hillman would provide a change of pace. However, based on the very early looks in practice, it is not out of the question that Hillman could be the starting running back on opening night versus the Ravens.
In a fast-paced offense like the one the Broncos are preparing to roll out starting in September, Hillman could be the fastest of them all.
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