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Injury Update: Ronnie Hillman probable; Emmanuel Sanders, T.J. Ward questionable


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **The Broncos' rushing game improved with the greater emphasis placed on it in the last six weeks. Just five teams ran more often than the Broncos, who kept it on the ground on 50.9 percent of their snaps. They also increased their average gain per carry from 3.7 in Weeks 1-11 to 4.48 yards the last five weeks.

Even though Ronnie Hillman wasn't a part of that because of a sprained foot, the third-year back might be able to help continue -- and perhaps enhance -- the Broncos' recent form. He is probable for Sunday after practicing on a full basis for the third consecutive day.

"He has good burst, good explosion, same things that you saw before the injury. He looks to be back in that form," said Head Coach John Fox. "We will see how it goes. He hasn't played football in about six weeks or so always get a little nervous about that but he has had a good week of preparation."

Fox declined to say whether Hillman would be active for the first time since Week 10, adding that everyone would know 90 minutes before Sunday's kickoff against Oakland, when the seven inactive players must be finalized.

"Whenever we get him back and going, we've just got to let him kind of do his thing and what he does to his strengths," Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said. "And we felt like we had a good feel of what he was able to do for us with what we were doing on the offense. We'll just see.

"If Coach Fox gives him the green light to get him up, we'll kind of play to his strengths and try to get him going and see if we can get him ready for the next step."

Safety T.J. Ward (neck strain), wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (hip) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe) are all questionable after having three days of limited practice this week. Ward did not wear his helmet during the periods of practice that were open to the media this week.

If Ward cannot play, the Broncos would likely give David Bruton increased repetitions; he's worked as a nickel safety in recent weeks when Ward moves up to a nickel linebacker position. After Ward's injury in the fourth quarter Monday, Bruton lined up as a nickel linebacker on one snap; when he did that, Omar Bolden moved to safety.

If Bruton works a nickel linebacker again Sunday, the chain reaction could push Bolden or recently promoted Josh Bush into the lineup. Bush was active as a Bronco for the first time Monday after being on the practice squad, which he joined on Nov. 18.

"He's gotten to impress the coaches," Fox said.

Bush, who played 39 games with the Jets from 2012-14, says he's up to speed with the defense, with extra film sessions with Rahim Moore getting him up to speed.

"I mean, it's all football. You've got your Cover-2, Cover-3, Cover-4 and man," Bush said.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall was the only Bronco on the active roster who did not practice Friday as the Broncos went inside their new field house to complete preparations for the Oakland Raiders.

Marshall was ruled out, as expected. He returned to workouts Thursday, nine days after getting out of the walking boot and 11 days after he sprained his foot against the Chargers.

In addition to Hillman, linebacker Lamin Barrow (illness), safety David Bruton (calf), offensive linemen Ryan Clady (thigh), Chris Clark (back), Will Montgomery (knee) and Manny Ramirez (illness), running backs C.J. Anderson (ankle) and Juwan Thompson (hip/knee), quarterback Peyton Manning (thigh), tight ends Jacob Tamme (foot) and Julius Thomas (ankle), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (ankle/hip), defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (illness), cornerback Kayvon Webster (shoulder), defensive end Derek Wolfe (knee) were all listed as probable and had full practices Friday.

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As snow covered Dove Valley, the Broncos practiced in their field house on Friday.


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