ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Injuries, most notably to defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, who went on injured reserve last week after dislocating his right hip against the New England Patriots, as well as a bone bruise to Knowshon Moreno’s right ankle, have pushed some of the Broncos' first-year players into more prominent roles.
And the Broncos are asking all involved to grow up quickly as they prepare for the stretch drive.
So, with that in mind here’s a weekly look at the Broncos’ rookie class:
Running back Montee Ball: With Moreno hurting a bit, Ball was pushed into what was a two-man rotation in the backfield in the win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The result was 13 carries for 117 yards for Ball. It was his first career 100-yard rushing game and the total included a career-best 45-yard run with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter. And while the Broncos were certainly happy with that jaunt, the kind of run from Ball they’ve really wanted to see came on a 28-yard effort with 1:46 to play in the game from the Broncos 13-yard line. That run enabled the Broncos to close things out -- Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning took a knee on the next three plays to end the game -- and is the kind of late-game role they’ve wanted for Ball if he can consistently hang on to the football. In all he played 24 snaps on offense against the Chiefs to go with three on special teams. The Broncos would like to have that kind of participation from him in the weeks ahead.
Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert was a game-day inactive against the Chiefs. But this week, because of his abilities as a runner as well as a passer – he was the first FBS player to throw for 500 yards and rush for at least 100 yards in the same game as a senior at Miami of Ohio -- Dysert could help the Broncos defense get a look at a scrambler in practice. Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick rushed for 54 yards in the Titans' loss to Indianapolis last Sunday while the Broncos surrendered 46 yards rushing to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.
Running back C.J. Anderson: After battling his way into some playing time, Anderson was a game-day inactive against the Chiefs and Ronnie Hillman was instead the third running back in uniform. Hillman, however, did not get a snap on offense, but did play four plays on special teams. Anderson was moved down the depth chart after playing 10 snaps on offense in the loss to the Patriots. He had a fumble, that he recovered, and a dropped pass in those 10 snaps. At the moment, it looks to be largely a two-man show at running back in the offense, but Anderson’s only way back for at least the opportunity for some playing time will be to pick up the pace during the week. Unless the Broncos have a change in strategy when they choose their game-day inactives, he and Hillman are now fighting for that No. 3 position.
Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams: The time is now for Williams. Vickerson’s injury moves the rookie into the rotation in the defensive front and the Broncos will need him to be up to the task. After not playing more than 19 snaps on defense in any of the Broncos’ first 10 games, Williams has now played 36 snaps against the Patriots – the game Vickerson was injured – to go with 22 snaps on defense this past Sunday against the Chiefs. Williams finished with one tackle. He will likely rotate with Mitch Unrein at Vickerson’s defensive tackle spot.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster: With Champ Bailey having played just 30 plays in his first game back in the lineup since Oct. 20, Webster played at times in the Broncos’ base, nickel and dime packages as he finished with 50 snaps overall on defense. It marked the second consecutive game, and the third time this season, Webster has played at least 50 plays on defense. He finished with three tackles. His snap count could dip slightly as Bailey plays more in the weeks ahead, but some of that may depend on how often the Broncos choose to play in the nickel and dime looks against opposing offenses. If the Broncos offense carves out a lead in the coming weeks that could force opposing offenses into catch-up mode and put the Broncos in some of their specialty looks, that include Webster, more and more.
Practice squad: Tackle Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick, was waived in the final cutdown, and defensive end John Youboty, an undrafted free agent who spent training camp with the Broncos, continue to work toward keeping themselves in the plan moving forward. All of the practice squad players have worked in an on-field workout of their own on Mondays as well as some extra time following practice each day.