Oct 12, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) runs against the New York Jets during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Ronnie Hillman has been handed every opportunity to become the man for the Denver Broncos.
Up to this point, the third-year running back out of San Diego State has fumbled every single one of them. In the literal and figurative sense.
Even in his first career 100-yard rushing game against the New York Jets, Hillman fumbled. At least he didn’t lose that one.
In the process, he leaves Broncos Country in states of shock and utter rage. There’s no doubt that Hillman has the potential to become a Darren Sproles-esque player for quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense.
He has incredible athleticism. His speed and quickness are insane. He has decent vision. He has great hands out of the backfield. He can block and protect PFM when opposing teams blitz.
And for the second year in a row, Hillman came into OTAs with more muscle. This summer, he checked in at 201 pounds, up from the 195 he was at last season.
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The problem is, Hillman can’t hold onto the ball.
It doesn’t matter how much time you spend in the weight room if you can’t do the most important and basic task of your position. What’s so maddening is Hillman fumbles at the worst possible times.
That’s not to say anytime is a good time to fumble. But the one that will haunt him for the rest of his career came last season against the Indianapolis Colts on the goal line.
Of course you do. It’s impossible to forget. In the end, that game didn’t mean a thing to Denver.
Too bad for Hillman, that play will follow him like a shadow on a hot summer day for the rest of his career. As will all of the others he’s coughed up. Last Sunday against the Jets was the most recent example. Until Hillman proves he can hold onto the football at a consistent clip, it’s going to stay with him.
Oct 5, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson (22) during the second half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 41-20. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
It’s not the amount of times he fumbles that’s so irksome. It’s the times in which he does it, and the fact he doesn’t get that many carries to begin with. That should put even more of an importance on Hillman to protect the ball and do whatever it takes to prove he can do the job.
Of course, Hillman said he has a chip on his shoulder after last season. He wants to prove that’s not who he is as a running back. That he wasn’t fighting for No. 2 on the Broncos depth chart but he’s the starter.
It took an injury and severe ineptitude from Montee Ball for that happen. The question now with the “success” Hillman and Juwan Thompson have had is if Ball even gets a chance when he’s healthy.
But Broncos Country heard this verse last year. Hillman said almost the same things. John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase had him in the No. 1 running back spot. Hillman got reps with Manning and the offense throughout OTAs, mini camp and training camp.
He was given the chance last season to be the man for the Broncos and he fumbled it. Hillman was lucky he still had a job coming into this season.
His performance against New York was a good sign. But until he goes a complete game without a fumble, these questions will remain and the doubt will persist.
Last I checked, there isn’t a machine or free weight to help you hold onto the football. It’s in your mind.
I want Hillman to succeed. I want him to become a Sproles-like player for PFM and this offense. That adds a whole other element for defenses to game-plan for and try to stop when they play Denver.
Added with the addition of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, that makes this offense more formidable. If the running game is successful., that means defenses can’t load up and stop the passing game – as the Jets tried to do.
When John Elway and the Broncos drafted Hillman, I was stoked. Having the chance to cover him at San Diego State when he came to Wyoming, I saw what this kid is capable of.
I felt Denver was the best situation for him given the offense and people around him.
Yet even after his first career 100-yard rushing game, I ask the question Broncos Country and the organization has asked since last season’s Colts game: Can Hillman be trusted?
Once I get past the anger and fits of rage, I find my answer.
At this point, I still wouldn’t trust him to hold a newborn.
Oct 5, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) runs the ball during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 41-20. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports