Englewood, Colo. -- Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville coached his unit to the top of the league last year as the Broncos led the NFL in rushing with 2,632 yards. They set a team record running for 164.5 yards a game and first-year Bronco Willis McGahee tied for the NFL lead with seven 100-yard rushing games and totaled 1,199 rushing yards on the year.
Studesville is entering his third season as the Broncos' running backs coach, but has 11 seasons coaching backs in the NFL. Before joining the Broncos in 2009, he spent six seasons with the Buffalo Bills and three years with the New York Giants.
With the addition of Peyton Manning to the offense, the ground game will indubitably carry a whole new look in 2012. What does that mean for the Broncos rushing attack? What is the competition like among the running backs as they head into training camp? And what type of roles will players like Lance Ball, Knowshon Moreno and third-round draft pick Ronnie Hillman have? DenverBroncos.com sat down with Studesville to run through these questions and more.
What did you know about Ronnie Hillman when he was drafted?"We did quite a bit of work on him, watching his tape from this past year and watching him play at San Diego State. He's a dynamic young player coming out and you saw that on tape, you saw how he played. We got a chance to meet with him and be around him a little bit at the combine, so you got kind of a sense of who he was and how he worked. We just felt like he was going to be a great addition for us and would bring a spark to us and we're excited about having him."
How will you get Hillman acclimated to the NFL and to the Denver Broncos?"It's a process. The whole thing is a process and that's what I'm here to help him with. We're not just going to throw him in the water in the deep end. We've got to get him in the water and teach him so he understands our concepts and the things that we want and how we want things done and how the running back fits into what we do. It's a learning process. Everyone learns at different paces. But Ronnie is really a sharp young man and we feel like it's going to come in time and it takes time. We're going to go through and give him as much as he can handle and when he can handle more we'll keep giving him more but he's been great for us so far."
What are the different roles that certain running backs will have this year?"In my room, it's a unique situation. I have a tremendous room. Willis certainly brings back a veteran leadership and did a great job for us last year and he's going to come back and we have big expectations for him. Lance Ball is another guy that contributed a ton for us last year and is extremely dependable and able to go in and play. I have great confidence in his ability. Certainly Knowshon is in there, coming off that knee injury and we're excited about him coming back and where he is right now. Jeremiah Johnson, Mario Fannin, and Xavier Omon are all guys that have been with us now for a period of time. We're hoping that those guys will begin to separate themselves out and we'll see how the whole thing plays out as we get into the offseason. Adding Ronnie in there is another great back that we have in there. I'm really excited about the room in general and what's sitting in there. It's an extremely competitive room. It's an extremely football-smart room. And it's going to be fun."
What does positional competition do for the team?"I think competition is great in everything. That's what (Head Coach John Fox) has brought in here and John Elway has talked about it. We want competition at every position. We want guys to push each other and to be better than where we were last year. We want to go above where we were last year. We've all got to push each other - coaches, players, everybody - to improve on what we did last season."
Who do you think has potential to have a 'break out' year?"I think they could all break out. I don't know which one will break out. That's the great part about going into camp is that we're spending this time teaching and learning and camp is a time for them to showcase what they can do on the field. Every one of them is going to get an opportunity to show what they can do and to go out there and be able to play and get in practices and games. And the whole thing will sort itself out. I'm excited about seeing all of them. I think they can all bring something unique to the picture."
How can Peyton Manning help the run game?"It's a team concept. His threat passing the ball helps the run game, but hopefully we're going to be an asset to him and protect him and give him an outlet as a receiver. Being able to run the ball effectively helps us so there are times when we don't have to throw the ball. We can turn around and hand it off and be productive in the run game. That just makes our offense better. It's not one person, we're going to need everybody at different times so we're all going to step up at different times."
*What is the chemistry like among the coaching staff and how does it help the team? *"I think it is beneficial. I think the great thing that Coach Fox has done is he has put together really a tremendous staff with knowledge of football and the game. We all come in and we all want to be successful. And so we all bring our different strengths and our opinions and our ideas to things that we feel like at the end of the day give the Denver Broncos the best chance to be successful. (Offensive Coordinator) Mike (McCoy) has done a tremendous job of adapting to what our players do best as well as what our coaches know and taking all the information and the bits and pieces from everything and putting it together to make the right combination for us to give ourselves the best chance to be successful on Sundays."