<
>

Broncos noticing Ronnie Hillman's efforts, which now include special teams

Ronnie Hillman carried the ball eight times for 66 yards in a preseason game against the Seahawks. John Froschauer/AP Photo

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are always lines to read between in training camp, a comment here, a personnel grouping used in practice there.

And when Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak took a moment to laud running back Ronnie Hillman's work on special teams in practice, it was worth noting. Because through the team's offseason workout and early in training camp, one of the things that was not working in Hillman's favor was the fact he did not have much of a presence on special teams.

But Hillman continues to show in practice, as well as with his eight carries for 66 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in the Broncos' preseason opener this past Friday night, that he offers something the other running backs do not.

C.J. Anderson and Montee Ball are still ahead of Hillman on the depth chart, but Hillman has the explosiveness, the big-play-in-waiting gear the team's other backs do not. And while his attention to detail and overall maturity have been questioned at times in his three previous seasons with the Broncos, Hillman seems to have taken the competition to heart at a position where the roster spots will be hard to come by.

So much so that in Monday's practice he continued to appear in some special teams drills.

"Ronnie is another player that has had a good camp, so he's playing good, those things transfer," Kubiak said. "He's working hard for (special teams coordinator) Joe (DeCamillis) on special teams, too. I see a hungry guy. I think that with he and Montee (Ball), it's a very competitive situation, and every time that C.J. (Anderson) gives them a few extra reps, they're taking advantage of it in my opinion."

Kubiak and the rest of the Broncos' coaches have repeatedly referenced Hillman's ability to be the big-play option in an offense that figures to distribute more carries than it has in the last three years with Peyton Manning behind center.

But Anderson and Ball play special teams, as does Juwan Thompson, who also can line up at fullback if necessary. So in the offseason workouts and early in training camp, Hillman was largely making his on-field case with what he did at running back only.

He continues to show quickness and the Broncos' most consistent ability to stress a defense on the edge. Toss in some additional work on special teams and Hillman would squarely be in the mix when the roster decisions get made.

On his effort against the Seahawks, Hillman said, "The lanes were there, those guys up front, they pushed people off the ball. I just had to go to the crease."

Hillman had been named the team's starting back during the 2014 offseason program, but did not hold onto the job, and by the time the Broncos went through training camp Ball was No. 1. But Hillman suffered a foot injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders and missed six of the last seven games of the regular season.

"I want to keep showing them," Hillman said. "Just keeping it up, practice after practice."