ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Close your eyes and imagine the sensation of being a rookie and stepping onto the practice fields of the very NFL franchise you cheered for - with heart racing and eyes glowing like the aurora borealis - as a seven year old on Sunday afternoons.
Now, take a deep breath and envision lining up in the backfield next to a quarterback wearing a ubiquitous number 18 on his jersey with the name Manning on the back -- an image that stands as pronounced as the Empire State Building when it comes symbols of the NFL.
For Broncos rookie running back
"At first, I was star struck," Ball said after Monday's OTA practice referring to playing alongside
And while expectations for his contributions to the team are high, Ball is growing more and more comfortable with that reality each passing day.
"It's funny because today I came in feeling extremely comfortable," Ball said. "The jitters are gone and now I'm ready to play. I feel like I sort of showcased that today in practice. I knew all of my assignments and I didn't look like I was a chicken with his head cut off in the backfield."
The reps have helped Ball overcome the initial nervousness that accompanies being thrust into an NFL offense for the first time.
"I was nervous," Ball said. "Just thinking about messing up, creating my own fear is what I was doing. Mostly, it's just making sure I know all the audibles and changes that are going to happen with Peyton at the line of scrimmage."
"He's better than me, because I had the jitters all year, every time I got in," said
"It's been big," Ball said, noting that working with Manning requires an understanding of every player's role on a given play. "The biggest adjustment from (Manning) is all the audibles that he makes because he's capable of - as we all know - changing the play at the line of scrimmage. You've got to know not only what the running back's route is on a play, if he's spread out and empty on a play, he can change the route from the first routes to the second routes."In learning the complex details of an NFL playbook and handling the demands of playing alongside Manning, there's been no room for shyness.
"(I ask Manning) a lot of questions," Ball said. "That's kind of what he told me at first, to ask questions. What he told me is that if you don't, then we expect that you know it, so for me, I'm just firing off a ton of questions right now."
And although the learning curve has been undeniably challenging, Ball has stepped up and exceeded his own expectations.
"First, obviously, it was rough," Ball said. "Different terminology and everything, kind of like learning a different language. But I'm doing a lot better than I expected. The playbook's coming along really well."
Now, the nerves are subsiding and Ball is settling into his role as a contributor to the offense.
"I (felt like I was dreaming) a while ago, but now you can't really do that because it's all about the playbook and stuff," he said. "I'm still most definitely grateful for the opportunity that I've been given, but now it's time to play football."