Montee Ball (38) avoids a tackle by St. Louis Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree (52) during the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. (Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)
Denver is another name for opportunity, at least in rookie Montee Ball’s eyes.
After three fumbles (two lost and returned for touchdowns) by Ronnie Hillman in the last two weeks, the starting running back spot for the Broncos is Ball’s gig to lose.
It was a big night for Ball on Saturday. First off, he was playing against his hometown team, the St. Louis Rams. Ball went to Timberline High School in the St. Louis area, where he had a record-setting 107 career touchdowns as a prep. Secondly, he scored his first NFL touchdown. Never mind the fact that he was trying to get rid of the ball after he scored (that’s a definite keeper!) from the one-yard line to give the Broncos a fighting chance.
“It feels good,” Ball said of his first touchdown. “The game is finally slowing down for me because at the NFL level the game is going a lot faster than college.”
“I thought he ran the ball hard,” John Fox added. “I thought his touchdown-run – what you saw was a big reason why we drafted him. I like the progress he’s making.”
Ball ended the night with 14 carries for 43 yards for a 3.1 average. It wasn’t the 5.7 yards per carry that Hillman put up, but he didn’t fumble the ball either. It wasn’t the 6.6 yards per carry that Knowshon Moreno put up, but Moreno was going against second and third string guys all night.
Ball also caught two balls for 27 yards, showing that he can be a threat in the short receiving game, when he catches the ball (he dropped one wide open pass close to the end zone).
“We have some young players, we have some first-year starters, potentially at tight end, and we’re going to have a young running back,” Peyton Manning said. “Montee Ball is going to play a lot.”
Ball had five carries for 9 yards in his first preseason game and then followed that up with 28 yards on six carries (4.7 avg) against the Seahawks. Keep in mind he was running behind a mixed and mashed offensive line. Against the Rams was the first time that he and the other backs ran with Ryan Clady in front of them, and it made a big difference production wise.
Ball’s workload will continue to increase only if he holds onto the ball. Still, expect the usual rookie growing pains – dropped wide open passes, not making the right cut, and being impatient behind blockers. If Ball can keep his mistakes to those, the Broncos’ new back will be fine. If he can consistently punch the ball into the end zone in the red zone, the Broncos will be just fine with him, too.
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