ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –Last year, running back Montee Ball appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, but did not start any.
Those starts went to Knowshon Moreno, but with Moreno signing in Miami as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, eyes have turned to Ball, who finished second on the team with 120 carries a year ago.
"There is no question with the loss of Knowshon—who was just nothing short of awesome for us this past year and was a great teammate—that Montee is going to have more responsibilities and I think he will answer that challenge," quarterback Peyton Manning said earlier this offseason. "I think he has the work ethic, I think he has the mental capabilities to handle the workload.
Whether or not that workload will increase this year is a decision that will be made by the Broncos coaching staff as they evaluate the current stable of backs on the roster that includes Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson, who all appeared for the team in 2013 – as well as future-contract signee Jerodis Williams.
Despite finishing second on the team behind Moreno in carries, rushing yards and rushing
touchdowns as a rookie, Ball isn't taking the starting role for granted.
"I know for a fact that they are not going to hand it to me and that they are going to make sure we all get our opportunities throughout OTAs and camp to see who will be the most productive," Ball said. "But my mentality is that it is my job and that I'm going to make sure nobody takes it from me."
Ball's 4.7 yards-per carry average ranked second among rookies in 2013. His four rushing scores in 2013 tied for fifth among rookie running backs, while his 559 yards ranked sixth amongst rookies.
But even with that success, Ball knows there is plenty of room for improvement headed into his second season.
"I just got done talking to our running backs coach (Eric Studesville) about it," Ball said. "All the experiences that I went through, I understand now the longevity of the season—how long it is. You have to take more pride and take care of your body—hydrating well, sleep, massages and all that stuff. But on top of that, just really focusing on the playbook week by week. In our offense, we're capable of changing a play day by day."
Ball isn't the only one expecting a jump in his performance this season. His quarterback also sees more production coming out of the former Wisconsin product.
"I thought Montee had a great year," Manning said. "I thought he learned a lot in his first year. In my past, I've seen a lot of development in guys from their first year to their second year."
"I look forward to having a full offseason with him," Manning continued. "He didn't have a full
one last year because of being a rookie so I look forward to getting even closer with him as far as being on the same page."
Spending his offseason working out with his teammates at Dove Valley have helped Ball get ready for year No. 2 in the NFL.
With a full season under his belt and an early jump on the offseason program, Ball said he's much more settled in now than he was at this point last year.
"It feels a lot more comfortable with just how things are going, what the coaches expect, what I expect from myself," he said. "I am glad to be here because I missed this part last year because of the draft and that stuff since I was a rookie. But, I'm just glad to be back and to go through the strength and conditioning program with everybody and just build team chemistry."