ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – On Sunday, Ronnie Hillman may have a new experience to add to his résumé: an NFL start.
Hillman took first team reps on Wednesday as starter Montee Ball did not participate after straining his groin during the third quarter of Sunday's win over the Cardinals.
"You've just got to look at it as an opportunity," Hillman said on Wednesday. "You've just got to do your best and make it hard for the coaches to take you out."
Hillman had one carry in the first half of the Broncos' win against the Cardinals for a loss of one. He finished the game with an impressive 64 yards on 15 carries, giving him an average of 4.3 yards per carry.
The Broncos were busy at work on Wednesday preparing for Sunday's game. The running backs were joined by practice squad addition Jeremy Stewart.
After the game, Peyton Manning said Hillman had a "really good burst" during the game.
"We're still looking for that balance every single week and it's a good opportunity for Ronnie," Manning said on Wednesday. "Ronnie has played at different times and different amounts but when you're the starting back and you're running out there in pregame warm-ups as a starting back, there's a different hat that you wear so we're counting on him in the run game, pass game and pass protection. There is no question he has a burst that is pretty unique when he gets the ball in his hands and it's our job to give him the space."
Manning said both Hillman and Juwan Thompson play like they are much older than they are.
In two seasons at San Diego State, Hillman started 20 games and finished third in school history with 3,243 rushing yards. He said because he started frequently in college, he understands the mindset required to be a first-teamer.
But because of his history as a starter in college, he said it's often difficult to sit behind other backs on the depth chart.
"Any competitive person, their patience is going to be tested when they're not playing as much as they want to," Hillman said. "I think it was definitely tested and me being patient is paying off, just being ready when you're called on."
He said as a starter, you feel more responsible and the need to get on the field and perform immediately. After the game on Sunday, he complimented the offensive line's ability to open holes for him. He noted the need to challenge defenses with a balanced attack.
While he didn't have the opportunity to score on Sunday, rookie Juwan Thompson found the end zone on an 8-yard run. He said their success after Ball's injury embodies the idea of "next man up."
"Hopefully he [Ball] gets back and we're going to go into next week," Hillman said on Sunday. "If he's not back, we have a game next week. The world doesn't stop. We're going to get back and we're going to get ready."
Head Coach John Fox didn't give a timetable for Ball's return. But, Hillman is going to do his best to prove himself in the spotlight.
"When the time comes, you've got to take advantage of the opportunity and right now's the time," he said.