ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Players with more than one year's worth of experience in the league have long told rookies they have not seen anything quite like postseason football no matter where those first-year players had been the big men on campus.
So, with that in mind here's a playoff look at the Broncos' rookie class:
Running back Montee Ball: When Ball lost a fumble in New England on Nov. 24 -- his third lost fumble of the season to that point -- there was some concern he wouldn't be trustworthy enough to do the job the Broncos hoped he could. The Broncos envisioned Ball spelling Knowshon Moreno and being a front-line option when the Broncos needed him to be. And since that last fumble, he has risen to the task. He has not lost a fumble since and finished the regular season with 559 yards on his 120 carries -- a team-best 4.7 yards per carry among the running backs. Ball also had his three best outings of the season over the season's final five games, including his first career 100-yard effort -- 117 yards in the Dec. 1 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. He's also shown quality work in the passing game as a receiver and improved at least some in pass protection. It means he will be a big part of the rotation in the postseason if things go the way the Broncos want.
Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert finished the regular season having been a game day inactive in every game, but he's benefitted from plenty of extra work with quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp. And now he gets to see playoff preparation up close with one of the best to ever play the position in the same meeting room. The postseason sessions with Peyton Manning will be yet another valuable reference point for Dysert as he moves forward in his career.
Running back C.J. Anderson: Ball's increased efforts in ball security, as well as Ronnie Hillman's rebound, have limited Anderson's playing time down the stretch. The Broncos went with Hillman as the third running back on game day over the season's final few weeks. Anderson was a game day inactive in four of the final five games and did not get a carry after the Broncos' Nov. 24 loss to the Patriots. If he's going to crack the postseason rotation, he's going to either need the Broncos to keep four backs on the game day roster -- and that's not likely -- or work his way past Hillman in practice at some point.
Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams: When Kevin Vickerson went to injured reserve (hip) following the loss to the Patriots, Williams was forced into far more playing time and he has shown himself to be ready for the increased workload. After not playing more than 19 snaps in any of the Broncos' first 10 games, and the 19 snaps came in Week 2 and Week 7, he has played at least 32 snaps in four of the final six games. He also posted his first two career sacks over the final three weeks and figures prominently in the defensie line rotation. He had five tackles in back-to-back games against the Chargers and Texans in December, including five solo tackles against the Texans. The Broncos need him to be disruptive and active in the middle to force some interior double teams and free up some of the team's rushers on the edge.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster: The last time Webster faced the Chargers, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers made it a point to harass the rookie as much as possible, repeatedly targeting Webster in coverage. Webster also fractured his right thumb in the game and did not play in the Broncos' final two games following surgery. Webster has practiced for the past two weeks with a cast on his hand and looks ready to play. With Champ Bailey back in the lineup and playing in the team's nickel package (five defensive backs), Webster will be looking at mostly special teams work as well as some duty in some of the Broncos' specialty looks on defense, including some snaps in the dime (six defensive backs) or a seven-defensive back look the team often uses in long-yardage situations. Webster showed both his toughness and resiliency in how he handled the injury and the way Rivers had targeted him. The Broncos believe he can contribute in a postseason setting.
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, a schedule that included extra work after Monday's practice when all of the other Broncos had already left the field.