Denver Broncos | News

Mason's Mailbag: Hillman, Thompson a two-headed terror

Week 8 is just beginning for most of the NFL, but it's over for the Broncos. The short week exacted a toll on everyone connected with the club -- players, coaches, staff, and even lowly Internet scribes. Sleep was at a premium. Bottles of energy-burst drinks are empty.

But the Mailbag is full, so let's dive right in. And as usual, you can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase, use the submission form or scroll to the bottom of this page.

I've loved everything about the way Juwan Thompson since preseason. I think he could be a huge feature back. But is he ever gonna get a 15-20 carry chance in game barring some injury or Hillman fumbling issues? From what I've seen he's been the most impressive out of all four of Denver's RBs.
-- Tyler Baumgartner

I think after Thursday night, you'd have to say Hillman is the most impressive. This is not a knock on Thompson, who ran for two touchdowns as a fullback in the I-formation the Broncos used at the goal line Thursday and moved the chains on 41.7 percent of his carries this season, the highest percentage for any NFL running back with at least 15 carries. At 225 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame, Thompson generates the thunder.

Three Emmanuel Sanders touchdowns and two from Juwan Thompson pushed the Broncos over the Chargers on Thursday night. Check out the best shots from the game.

But it's hard to argue with Ronnie Hillman's work the last three games -- particularly this week. His first 100-yard game, against the New York Jets, was in part the result of the Jets daring the Broncos to run. Against the 49ers and Chargers, Hillman earned it against more balanced defensive formations -- never more so than on first-and-10 situations, when he gained 74 yards on 20 carries. A 3.7-yards-per-carry average in that scenario is steady, and he lost yardage just once on those 20 carries.

Hillman learned to take what's there, and that leads to the 2-, 3- and 4-yard pickups that aren't a running back's dream, but keep the assembly line moving. They force the defense to take the ground game seriously, which leads to first-and-10 outcomes like the 38-yard play-action pass from Peyton Manning to Emmanuel Sanders on Thursday.

And Hillman provides the lightning of the duo, with two 37-yard runs in the past five days. Both came on second-and-10 plays, on which the Broncos average 9.29 yards per carry -- and 4.67 yards per rush even when eliminating Hillman's long gallops from the calculation. (In general, second-and-10 is a productive scenario; the Broncos average 9.29 yards on 14 carries and 9.74 yards on 19 pass plays when facing that down and distance.)

Thompson brings power, short-yardage potential and blocking ability. But Hillman is playing too well to be de-emphasized -- not only as a runner, but in pass protection and ball security (one fumble in 86 touches this season). You might see more from Thompson, Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson, but for the moment, Hillman has the hot hand.

Knowing the challenge Denver's O-line, and specifically the tackles, faced in Super Bowl XLVIII against Seattle, will Denver look at any right tackles before the trade deadline to strengthen the right side? With Chris Clark and Paul Cornick both struggling, it could the difference in hoisting the Lombardi.
-- Roger Cardoza

I'm sure the Broncos will at least take a look on the trade market, perhaps at spots that are not considered pressing needs. Midseason trades are rare, and the cost-controlled, cap-friendly status of draft picks under the collective bargaining agreement finalized in 2011 makes every team think twice about trading a draft pick.

At right tackle, the question is simple: is there anyone out there who represents an improvement on Cornick, who now has two starts to his name? Cornick struggled early Sundat, with a false start on his second play, a sack conceded to San Francisco's Aaron Lynch and two other pressures. But he improved as that game progressed, and four days later did not permit a single quarterback pressure or hit. This was the leap Cornick needed to take in his second start.

The Broncos will monitor Cornick week to week, but their best bet appears to be riding out the tackles who know their scheme rather than fishing for help from outside -- help which would not have the same background in this offense and would need to learn from scratch.

In the parlance of Bill Lumbergh, "I'm going to have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you there."

It seems to me that Demaryius Thomas gets the respect he deserves. Media-driven lists such as this one from NFL Network in July place Thomas among the league's elite class. And inside the league, he's held in high regard because of his athleticism, ability to overcome injuries (remember his foot and Achilles problems of his first two years?) and development as a complete receiver, and not just the deep threat he was at Georgia Tech.

You'd be right to be a bit disappointed. I think that's a common sentiment around Dove Valley and Sports Authority Field at Mile High after the news that the Contributors Committee nominated Bill Polian and Ron Wolf for consideration by the entire Hall of Fame Selection Committee on Jan. 31, one day before Super Bowl XLIX.

But I think being upset is a stretch, for two reasons. First, the pool of contributors is not likely to grow much over the next few years, and the Contributors Committee will nominate six more names to be voted upon for the 2016-19 classes. So there will be other chances for Bowlen to get the recognition that he earned.

Second, personnel executives like Wolf and Polian are underrepresented. There are 11 owners in the Hall of Fame. (The number is 12 if you count Paul Brown, who was inducted for his coaching accomplishments. one year before the Cincinnati Bengals, which he owned, debuted.) But there are just two "pure" executives (who didn't own or coach a team) in the Hall of Fame: Jim Finks and Tex Schramm.

This is a massive void, and it's one the Hall of Fame is anxious to correct. However, I expect you'll see an owner (or owners) put forth for selection in the coming years, and Bowlen's record (chairmanship of the Broadcast Committee, six AFC titles, two Super Bowl wins, fastest owner to 300 wins) gives him an impeccable case for enshrinement.

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