Montee Ball doesn't see the fire yet, but he sure smells the smoke. Despite being listed as the No. 2 tailback on the Broncos' depth chart, Ball didn't get a carry until the fourth quarter of their 19-12 preseason victory over the 49ers on Saturday.
The third preseason game usually is the one that best models the regular season, and Ball was stuck without a significant role in it.
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, who has built a career out of getting the most out of running backs, defended his decision to not play Ball much by saying it's difficult to give carries to four running backs during a game.
"Special teams is a big factor with him and (Juwan Thompson)," Kubiak said. "We'll see. I'm fine with Montee."
C.J. Anderson, the Broncos' starting tailback, controlled most of the carries in the first half Saturday with Ronnie Hillman spelling him occasionally. Hillman and Thompson were the go-to backs to start the second half.
It's possible that on gameday, the Broncos will dress only Anderson, Hillman and Thompson, due to Thompson's role on special teams. The team could attempt to trade Ball, or just wait for an injury further up the depth chart before making him active on Sundays.
Renck: I am not ready to say Ball's roster spot is in jeopardy. But clearly he needs to finish strong, beginning in the third week vs. the 49ers. Ronnie Hillman zoomed past him on the depth chart by leading the NFL with 120 yards in the first two preseason games. Ball has long gain of 12 yards, and 18 yards on his other 11 carries. That's not cutting it. I don't know if he's over thinking it or what, but he should be better in this offense. Juwan Thompson has played well and excels on special teams.
For Ball, the clock is ticking to make an impression on the new coaching staff. Without real improvement, anything is possible.
Hillman has gained a lot of press this camp and looks like he has the RB2 job behind C.J. Anderson. Once projected as the team's RB1, Ball seems to be sliding down the depth chart. Given how the team went deep into their RB stash last year, they may not be in a hurry to part ways with Ball. Thompson's ability on special teams would only help his cause.
But he was the second running back up against Houston on Saturday. And after slashing through blocks and around the edges of the Texans' defense for 54 yards on just eight first-half carries, he is second to none in the league in rushing yardage so far this preseason, with 120 yards on 16 carries.
Yeah, yeah, it's just preseason. The Broncos know that. Hillman, in his fourth year, knows that. Last year's preseason rushing leader, Baltimore's Lorenzo Taliaferro, gained just 292 yards in limited duty in the regular season. No one's breaking out the streamers and balloons to herald Hillman's arrival.
But there's something different about the San Diego State product now. As the offense as a whole searches for consistency in a tweaked scheme, Hillman appears more comfortable now than ever before.
"He’s moved himself up. He’s had a really good camp," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said after Saturday's game. "... He deserves more reps and if he keeps playing like that he’ll continue to get some more."
Kubiak has always noted that he won't strictly have No. 1 and No. 2 running backs; instead, they will be 1 and 1a. The best example of how that worked for him came in the 2011 season with the Houston Texans, when backup Ben Tate had 175 carries -- 62.9 percent as many as first-teamer Arian Foster. They combined for 2,166 yards and the Texans sprinted to their first division title. The No. 2 back will play -- and he could see a lot of work, the story said. Right now, C.J. Anderson figures to be the lead back with Montee Ball also a factor. But Hillman has been good and the Broncos appear to have three legit threats. While Anderson is a popular early round pick after stepping up late last season, it looks like at least Hillman is trying to make a push for playing time.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 8:56am
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.
As the story said, 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.
Saturday, August 15, 2015, 10:36am
Almost from the moment he was introduced as the new coach in January, Gary Kubiak has promised the Broncos will run the ball more, run the ball better and that those efforts will help win games and keep QB Peyton Manning out of harm's way when the future Hall of Famer does let loose.
Which makes this a good time to point out that in 20 previous seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator or head coach, Kubiak's team has had a 1,000-yard rusher 15 times. Seven times a back rushed for at least 1,500 yards.
With three players in the starting offensive line Friday night who had played in zero NFL games combined -- preseason or otherwise -- the Broncos called 33 runs before the night was out, a different look for a team that had at least 33 rushing attempts in just five games last season. Ronnie Hillman, who has spent most of the offseason as the No. 3 back, did most of the work Friday with 66 yards on his eight carries.
This is good news for those thinking about taking RB CJ Anderson either late first round or early second in drafts. The Broncos are looking to give more work to their running game, much like they did the end of last year when Anderson began to emerge.
Sunday, July 5, 2015, 3:09pm
Broncos beat writer Troy Renck talked about C.J. Anderson and what could be expected of this season. Renck: I believe C.J. Anderson, a bowling ball with legs, can roll for 1,400 yards. He will be physically prepared for the grind. Just as Terrell Davis paved the way for the Broncos' first Super Bowl, Anderson holds the key to making life easier on QB Peyton Manning. It might not be circa 1997, but Anderson can be plenty good enough.
We rank Anderson 10th among our RBs, and he's been going in drafts around the middle of the second round. Over the final eight weeks, Anderson averaged 24.0 touches for 132 yards and 1.3 TD, and was the #1 RB in that span. If the Broncos commit to Anderson (and why wouldn’t they?), he should thrive under new HC Gary Kubiak, who just coaxed a career year out of journeyman Justin Forsett. We don't have Anderson going for 1,400 yards, but should crack the 1,000 yard mark as Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball could steal some work.
In what will be some of his last public comments on the matter until training camp opens in late July, HC Gary Kubiak said, “We’re right where we’re at. Obviously, C.J., that’s in a lot of ways his spot to hang on to. I think that Montee has had a great offseason. I think Ronnie [Hillman] has had a really good offseason. I think it's very competitive. You never know about the backs until you put the pads on. I think C.J. has worked extremely hard. Coming off of last year, he deserves that opportunity, and I think he's getting ready for that opportunity. But he knows he’s being pushed very hard."
Kubiak said Monday that Anderson’s ability in the passing game, both in protection and as a receiver, has kept him there.
"I think in this league as coaches you look for guys that can be three-down players," Kubiak said. "When you have two-down players, that's fine, but it's just very difficult in the game standpoint and getting them the ball and calling the game when you're not out there all the time. He has a knack for protection, he's very bright in protection. So he's a guy that’s not going to leave the field -- as much as he can stand. And that's what the great ones do, so that gives him an excellent chance."
He began to see starter-type touches in Week 10 with 17 touches for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. Over the final eight weeks, he averaged 24.0 touches for 132 yards and 1.3 TD, and was the #1 RB in that span. Anderson had a tough offseason last year, but is doing much better this time around. He should start the season as the starter, and as long as he doesn't fall on his face (or start fumbling), it should be a very productive role in the Broncos' offense.
The Broncos' third-year running back predicts — not smugly but almost sheepishly — that he'll surpass Hillman and unseat Anderson, whose spectacular second half of 2014 earned him a Pro Bowl berth and the Broncos' starting tailback job.
"C.J. deserves the No. 1 spot right now. I'm most definitely going to try to work to get it back. And I believe that I will," Ball told The Associated Press during a break at minicamp this week. "I like coming in and being the underdog, just keeping my head down, my mouth shut and just working."
The clear-cut starter a year ago at this time after rushing for a 4.7-yard average his rookie year, Ball never regained his explosiveness or his starting job after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in August.
Ball blames the three-week layoff for weakening his core, which he believes in turn led to the torn right groin that landed him on injured reserve, limiting him to a paltry 172 yards on 55 carries for a 3.1-yard average and a single TD in 2014.
"I went back out there and it was just all downhill from there because I believe by having a weak core from having the surgery and not being able to work out my core for a good three weeks everything just lost its balance and my groin went out," Ball said. "I'm not blaming anyone because I looked them in the face and said, 'I feel great. I feel 100 percent.'"
Anderson starts the offseason as the starter, and it's his job to lose, but he's one of the riskier running backs currently going in the first three rounds due to his "half-year wonder" status and the presence of Hillman and Ball.
Broncos RB C.J. Anderson earned his place on the first team with a performance in the second half of the season that was more productive than all but one other running back in that span.When offseason workouts start, he will remain atop the depth chart at running back -- but only if he can maintain his performance and diligence.
"He made a big jump as a player, and I think he's earned the right to walk in to the offseason program -- the OTAs -- and line up as our starter," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "But he's got to continue to earn it on a daily basis... I think he's shown he has all the ability to be an excellent starter in this league, so we're really looking forward to working with him."
But he will return to find his predecessors at running back at full strength. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman have recovered from groin and foot injuries, respectively, and will factor into the scramble for carries.
"All those guys are young. I think all three of those guys ... have all kind of had their little spurts of success with the club when they've had their opportunity," Kubiak said. "But they're all young. Who's going to be the bell cow, who's going to play every down, who's going to be the three-down player, they've got to sort that out. C.J. has shown the flashes of doing that... We'll give them all a chance and see how it pans out, but C.J. obviously has a good head start on things," Kubiak said.
The competition could be fierce, but Anderson's success last year and his ability to translate that to a zone-blocking scheme gives him the early lead.
"All good players fit your system, and he's a good player," Kubiak said. "So we've got some good young backs, and it's going to be very competitive from that standpoint, but, yeah, he's proven that running zone schemes and doing those types of things seem to fit him very well."
Anderson began to see starter-type touches in Week 10 with 17 touches for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. Over the final eight weeks, he averaged 24.0 touches for 132 yards and 1.3 TD, and was the #1 RB in that span. If the Broncos commit to Anderson (and why wouldn’t they?), he should thrive under Kubiak, who just coaxed a career year out of journeyman Justin Forsett.
By season's end, Anderson was a Pro Bowler. But Anderson started the final eight games with John Fox as head coach. Gary Kubiak is the Broncos' coach now.
"He's got to go earn that," Kubiak said. "When he walked off the field last year he was playing that way. He's a young player. I told him that when I talked to him. I said, "C.J. when you come back for the offseason you need to handle yourself like you're the starter. ... I think he's ready to do that."
This is a common motivational tactic that coaches use with young, less-established players, but Anderson should be the team's RB1 in 2015 provided he doesn't report to OTAs out of shape. He began to see starter-type touches in Week 10 with 17 touches for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. Over the final eight weeks, he averaged 24.0 touches for 132 yards and 1.3 TD, and was the #1 RB in that span. If the Broncos commit to Anderson, he should thrive under new Kubiak, who just coaxed a career year out of journeyman Justin Forsett. Provided QB Peyton Manning returns for another season, Anderson’s production should continue.
Broncos RB C.J. Anderson did enough behind an offensive line that struggled mightily at times in an offense that couldn't find its rhythm over the season's final month to open the offseason as the starter. What happens next, however, will be a test of his football maturity as well as his preparation given success can often be more difficult for some to handle than adversity. Montee Ball, too, has promised to return "ready to win the job." Ronnie Hillman has plenty of untapped potential as well, even as the Broncos keep waiting for the career light to go on with their former third-round pick. They thought it had when Hillman had two 100-yard games in a three-week span in October only to have his season derailed by a foot injury.
Anderson probably holds the most risk of the top 12 running backs heading into the offseason. He was tremendous down the stretch, but there's a new regime in town (though he's considered to be a good fit for new HC Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking attack). Remember, he didn't keep himself in top physical condition last offseason, so that's something to monitor this spring and summer.
Friday, December 26, 2014, 6:53pm
Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot, probable) took full practice reps all week and is probable for Week 17. Hillman should return this week, but he’s likely to serve as the change-of-pace back to C.J. Anderson, who has been a revelation after taking over as the team’s primary back. Anderson is a very strong start against a shaky Oakland rush defense.
Both Peyton Manning (thigh) and Emmanual Sanders (illness) were questionable coming into this game, but reports all week said there was little doubt both would play and both are indeed active and can be safely started for Week 16. Ronnie Hillman is inactive meaning C.J. Anderson will again carry the load in what is a great matchup on paper.
Christopher Clark (T, back), Cortrelle Anderson (RB, ankle), Cody Latimer (WR, concussion), Jacob Tamme (TE, ribs), Demaryius Thomas (WR, ankle), Julius Thomas (TE, ankle), Will Montgomery (C, knee).
Paul Cornick (T, toe), Brandon Marshall (LB, foot).
Brandon Tate (WR, illness), Jermaine Gresham (TE, toe), Margus Hunt (DE, ankle), Terence Newman (CB, ankle), Mike Pollak (G, knee), Carlos Dunlap (DE, calf), D'Andre Kirkpatrick (CB, Achillies).
QB A.J. McCarron (illness)
Emmanuel Lamur (LB, hamstring), James Wright (WR, knee).
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