The Denver Broncos’ running game was in a shambles until a post-bye week matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, when Montee Ball was injured and Ronnie Hillman came off the sideline for his first major action in over a year.
After the season, Hillman was rumored to have been in the doghouse for a variety of reasons, but he re-dedicated himself and according to running backs coach Eric Studesville, was having the best offseason of any runner on the team. Hillman was suddenly the veteran of a group of backs that lost Knowshon Moreno, and didn’t have any real starting experience.
With Montee Ball out due to injury, Hillman stepped up in his place and started to explode through holes that didn’t appear to be there when Ball was in the lineup. Hillman’s speed was a welcome addition to the Broncos’ offense, and his emergence in the middle of the year had people talking like he might be the guy the Broncos had been missing all along.
After a couple of really good games, Hillman injured his foot and needed to be replaced. Missing six games, the Broncos saw an incredible emergence from C.J. Anderson as the featured back. Anderson has provided tough yards, good pass protection, and a valuable weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. What Hillman lacks as an inside runner, Anderson picked up the slack in, and the Broncos were able to change their identity over the last two months of the season.
With Hillman back in the lineup, things change dramatically again, as there is now a speed element to the Broncos’ running game. While Anderson is capable of breaking off big runs and Juwan Thompson broke off the biggest of the Broncos’ season so far, no one offers the explosiveness that Hillman does and having him healthy and ready for the playoffs will be a huge bonus for the Broncos, especially after his emergence earlier this season.
With a full week of practices this week, Hillman is on track to have a role in the Broncos’ week 17 matchup against the Oakland Raiders.