Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite (57) in front of cornerback Tramaine Brock (26) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Montee Ball’s time as the starting running back for the Denver Broncos seems to be coming to an abrupt end.
Over the course of the offseason, Ball was riding a wave of hype and potential. Coming off of a strong finish to his rookie season, it’s easy to see why many bought into the guy dubbed as the second coming of legendary Bronco back Terrell Davis.
Ronnie Hillman has now officially supplanted Ball as the feature back in Denver’s offense.
There’s no turning back for the Broncos. Ball’s days of getting consistent touches are well in the past. Between Hillman, rookie Juwan Thompson and a little dose of C.J. Anderson, it’ll be tough for Ball to find his way back into the rotation.
Mainly because of his 2013 second-round draftee status, Ball will likely be incorporated some way into the offense.
Thompson has already looked better than Ball ever did, and he only has 17 carries in three games. Anderson is the wild-card in this equation and it won’t be easy for him to beat out Ball when he comes back to the team.
Ball isn’t terrible, nobody is saying that here. He just isn’t what his coaches, fellow teammates and what much of Bronco Country thought he was.
And that’s OK.
After watching Ball in his relatively limited time on the field, he has his uses that could greatly benefit Denver’s offense.
In the passing game, Ball has looked fairly decent.
Athletically, he’s not Reggie Bush, and obviously never will be. His skill set is similar as far as when he gets the rock in the open field, though.
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Regardless of how they use him, Ronnie Hillman is cemented in as the Broncos’ starting tailback.
He has completely outplayed Ball and it’s not even close.
Since his relief of Ball roughly a couple of weeks ago versus the Arizona Cardinals, Hillman has compiled nearly 300 yards of total offense. His 4.6 yards per carry don’t jump out at you, but when you consider the top-tier run defenses he had to power through the past three games, Hillman has been mighty impressive.
He looked Darren Sproles-esque on Sunday to follow up his first career 100-yard rushing game he had against the New York Jets.
It was his finest performance yet and the San Francisco 49ers had no answer for the speedster. Hillman ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries as he spun, juked and sprinted past a lost 49er defense. For good measure, he added on four catches that went for 29 yards.
One of Hillman’s scores came in the middle of the third quarter on a 37-yard touchdown run that all but sealed the game for the Broncos. It was the longest run the 49ers have allowed all season.
If his noteworthy play on the field hasn’t been enough, Hillman’s confidence as the top man coming out of the backfield seems to have grown considerably.
"“Once you start getting in there and you start getting a role and getting comfortable with everything, you kind of get in a rhythm. Every running back needs that rhythm. I don’t care what anybody says. I’m starting to get a rhythm, and it’s starting to pay off a little bit.”"
This writer has been saying for weeks that Hillman could add another dimension to a Denver offense lacking a threat in the backfield. He’s filled out that role for the Broncos and is giving them more than they probably could have imagined at this point.
While he may not be the running back of the future, he looks damn good right now and is keeping defenses honest with his stellar play.
This Thursday night, Hillman and the Broncos host the San Diego Chargers in a divisional showdown to determine who is best in the AFC West.