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Ronnie Hillman's foot sprain keeps RB position in flux

Posted Nov 10, 2014

Ronnie Hillman's foot sprain forces another shift to the running back corps -- and questions as to how the workload will be divided.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The steady stream of injuries and ailments at running back that dates back to training camp claimed Ronnie Hillman as its latest victim.

Broncos Head Coach John Fox said Hillman, the Broncos' leader in rushing yardage (378) and rushing touchdowns (three), is "day-to-day" with the sprained foot he suffered in Sunday's 41-17 win over Oakland.

But the depth at the position, the recovery of Montee Ball from a groin strain and the breakout performance of C.J. Anderson on Sunday leaves the Broncos with plenty of options -- both for the short and long term.

If they want Hillman to take his time with his recovery, he can, especially after Anderson racked up 163 yards from scrimmage on 13 rushes and four receptions. His tally was the best for a Broncos running back since Nov. 24 or last year, when Knowshon Moreno amassed 230 yards at New England.

"It speaks to the depth we have. We've been pretty fortunate," Fox said. "It's a tribute to them being on top of their craft."

Who ends up playing at St. Louis next Sunday and beyond will depend on one factor above others -- even above performance.

"I think it's who's healthy. No. 1, first and foremost, is evaluating that week to week," said Fox.

Through Ball's five-game recovery, which began when he fell in a "freak accident" while trying to block against Arizona on Oct. 5, he remained atop the depth chart issued to media each Tuesday after starting Weeks 1-4.Ball practiced on a limited basis last week for his first on-field work since Oct. 5, but was inactive Sunday, and limited to pre-game running and route work.

"We just didn't feel he was quite ready to be up (active) for the game," Fox said.

If neither Ball nor Hillman is available next week, rookie Kapri Bibbs could get his first work as the third man in a rotation. The former practice-squad back was a game-day scratch in three games after being promoted to the 53-man roster.

But Bibbs would have to wait behind the backs who replaced Ball. Hillman had a pair of 100-yard games against the Jets and Chargers and rookie Juwan Thompson had a two-touchdown game against San Diego and emerged as a reliable short-yardage and goal-line threat.

Then came Anderson on Sunday. He noted that the game plan called him to play some situations -- "we talked about it on third downs," he noted after the game. But Hillman's foot injury limited him to just six carries and two receptions, with two runs and one catch after halftime.

"Things just happened," said Anderson, whose 51-yard catch-and-run pulled the Broncos out of their first-half funk and started a 35-0 sprint that turned a close game into a runaway.

"I just do my role. I just do what they tell me to do. If they say, 'C.J., go in,' then go in," Anderson said on Sunday. "You prepare every day like you're going to be the starter.

But if Anderson sees an expanded role, he's ready.

"If they decide to make my role bigger, then I'm going to go out there and play," he said. "One thing about our running backs room and our coach, [Running Backs] Coach Eric Studesville, is we prepare. His preparation is probably up there with Peyton (Manning's). We will always know what to do, and we will never be upset and lost."

And that helped Anderson step in and not only ensure no drop-off, but to enhance the position with his quickness, ability to make tacklers miss, and vision in the open field.

"[Studesville] had a lot of confidence in me when he put me int here, saying, 'You always prepare.' All five of us prepare like we're going to start that day, because you never know what's going to happen. I think that's great in our room, and we want to keep that going."

It's a nightmare for fantasy-football players, but it's a dream for the Broncos, who know they can withstand injuries at a high-attrition position and still have a quality option.

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