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Filling the Void

Posted Nov 21, 2012

The Broncos will need running backs Lance Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno to fill in for Willis McGahee, who has been placed on IR.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – With running back Willis McGahee on IR, the Broncos will have to finish the regular season without their starting running back from the first 10 games.

At the moment, the Broncos are looking internally to answer the question of who will now shoulder the load in the running game.

“For this week, I think we feel very comfortable with who we have,” Head Coach John Fox said. “That can change based on anything we might do but I think it’s fair to say, and pretty obvious, that we’ll pull from guys that we have that know our system.”

McGahee had picked up 731 yards on 161 carries and added 26 receptions for 221 yards prior to his injury. That production makes his knee injury a tough pill to swallow for the entire offense.

“We’re certainly going to miss Willis,” quarterback Peyton Manning. “To say we’re not going to miss Willis would not be telling the truth. He’s that good of a player.”

In McGahee’s absence, it will be important for not only the running backs, but every player on the roster to help fill the void. Injuries are an unavoidable aspect of the game that require every team to make adjustments, every season, Manning said.

“We have that next man up philosophy around here,” Manning said. “A lot of teams have that. Coach Fox certainly has it. We’ve had other players get injured and other players have stepped up, whether it’s (guard) Chris Kuper or (cornerback) Tracy Porter, whoever it was. That’s what you have to do in the NFL. (Running back) Knowshon (Moreno) and (running back) Lance (Ball) and (running back) Ronnie (Hillman) all have to step up. Everybody else has to step their game up, too, when you’re missing one of your top players.”

In Moreno, Ball and Hillman, the Broncos have a trio of players to turn to at the running back position. Moreno, a former first-round draft choice, has 24 career starts and 19 total touchdowns. Ball and Hillman have both been active in each of the team’s past eight games, with Ball playing in every game this season. The group has earned the confidence of Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy.

“I’ve got no doubt that those guys can run and carry the load for him,” McCoy said. “Every back, every player has a different style, so they’ll do their thing, and we have all the confidence in the world in those guys.”

“The good thing is all three guys had played plenty earlier in the year,” McCoy added. “They’re all familiar with the system, and they all have to pick up their game.”

The best way to learn is to get experience. One positive for the Broncos who will be called upon to step up is that none of them will be seeing their first game action.

“Well, certainly I’ve said it before, experience is your best teacher,” Manning said. “Game experience is the best, also. The more repetitions you can get in games, the better. Obviously, Willis has had the most game repetitions but Lance and Knowshon are veteran players and Ronnie’s probably had as much experience as any rookie running back right now. Those guys will step up and do a good job.”

As a competition for the starting nod at running back plays out in practice between Hillman, Moreno and Ball, each of the backs has said they will be prepared for whatever contribution they are expected to make.

“It’s whatever the coaches ask of me, ask of Ronnie, ask of Knowshon,” Ball said. “It’s just when the number is called.”

Should Hillman’s role increase, he will view the opportunity as more of an increased responsibility than a cause for excitement.

“It’s kind of like you have an expanded role and you have to be able to, No. 1, protect Peyton,” Hillman said. “I’ve been in there a lot, but if I do get an expanded role, it’s a little bit more pressure on you being able to do everything right every play that I’m in there if it’s more reps.”