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Hillman man to beat at Broncos camp

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There's the man who isn't big enough, the first-round draft pick who hasn't lived up to his potential and the record-setting college back brought in to replace them both.

Then, there is this question: With Peyton Manning at quarterback, does it really matter who winds up as the featured runner for the Denver Broncos?

That's the puzzle Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball are sorting out during training camp.

When the first depth chart of camp was released over the weekend, it was Hillman, who put on 20 pounds in the off-season, listed at No. 1. He was followed by Ball, the second-round draft pick out of Wisconsin, and Moreno, the 12th overall pick of the 2009 draft.

"You want to be that guy that's able to play every down," said Hillman, a third-round pick last year who was largely viewed as a change-of-pace back. "That's what I work toward. It's been my emphasis and hopefully that happens."

The whole notion that the Broncos need a featured back might seem laughable in an offence featuring a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback who is showing every sign of being completely healthy.

Back in January against Baltimore, it was no joke.

The Broncos had a seven-point lead with 3:12 left and were in position to run out the clock with two first downs. Hillman got the first one with runs of eight and five yards, but then gained a total of three yards on his next three carries.

Moreno had left the game with a knee injury and Denver's biggest back at the time, Willis McGahee, was already long gone with a season-ending knee injury. That left it to Hillman, who, at 180 pounds, didn't have the girth to push the pile. Coach John Fox opted against trying to throw for the first down and so, the Broncos gave the ball back, gave up the tying touchdown and, soon after, were 38-35 upset losers to the Ravens.

Soon after, Fox conceded that, yes, he wished he'd had that big back to milk the clock.

Hillman got the message and packed on 20 pounds in the off-season.

Not leaving anything to chance despite Hillman's weight gain, the Broncos targeted a running back in the off-season and used their second-round pick to take Ball, whose credentials have "every-down back" written all over them. He posted NCAA records with 5,140 yards and 83 touchdowns in four years at Wisconsin.

By all appearances, Moreno has the biggest hill to climb. It didn't go unnoticed in the off-season when executive vice-president John Elway consistently forgot to mention the former first-round draft pick's name while discussing the Broncos runners.

But Moreno is here, albeit listed third on the depth chart and practicing with the third team.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 6, 2013 D2

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