It hasn’t been a smooth ride in the NFL for third year running back Ronnie Hillman.
Since the Broncos traded up for Hillman in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, he’s found himself in the dreaded running back ‘doghouse’ that players like Knowshon Moreno have found themselves in recent years.
Like Moreno in 2012, there was a long spell in 2013 that Hillman was not active on gamedays. He fumbled in a key situation against the Colts on Sunday Night Football, and apparently the Broncos — like the fans — had had enough.
Hillman was exiled to Fumble Island, where he was allowed to practice but not play while the Broncos saw huge development from Moreno and rookie Montee Ball over the course of the season.
As of right now, Hillman is the goat among Broncos offensive players, at least for the fans. He had huge expectations going into last season, some pundits even claiming he had similar skills to those of Jamaal Charles, a player the Broncos have to deal with twice a year.
And like Charles, Hillman does possess intriguing speed. He has bulked himself up in order to carry a full workload, and while the Broncos have made it clear that Montee Ball is the one to beat for #1 carries this season, Hillman is preparing as though he’s entering an open competition for that number one spot.
“I’m not practicing or being out here to be the No. 2,” Hillman said. “I’m going to be out here doing what I can and showing what I can going into next year.”
Hillman talked about how in his rookie season, he got too relaxed. That was painfully obvious, especially after the Broncos arrived in New York for the Super Bowl, and the first thing Hillman did was hit up the strip clubs (allegedly).
If true, Hillman probably wasn’t alone, but it wasn’t exactly the model for hard work and focus you want to see out of a player preparing for the Super Bowl.
After two seasons, it’s hard not to think that Hillman has nearly worn out his welcome in Denver, but Knowshon Moreno’s growth in 2013 (his 5th year with the Broncos) proved that with young players you have to be patient, and Hillman came into the league as a 20-year old who was perhaps overwhelmed by the size and speed of the game.
Keep this in mind — had Hillman played until his senior season at San Diego State, he would be a rookie in 2014. The Broncos knew going into it that he would need time, and the third year is a great opportunity for Hillman to make an impact.
And he’s working harder than ever.
“You’ve just got to come to work with a chip on your shoulder,” Hillman said. “It’s easy to say you’re going to practice hard and work hard, but you’ve just got to show it. Right now is the time. These next couple of months are crucial. The job’s open, and I’m going after it. I’m not working to be No. 2.”
If the Broncos can get anything positive out of Hillman, it will be a bonus. If they get significant development and the player they drafted him to be, it will be yet another weapon on one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.