DENVER –With Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno expected to handle the bulk of the regular-season carries, that trio got the night off as the Broncos closed out their 2013 preseason.
For the most part.
Ronnie Hillman started the game and ran for 2, then 12 yards on the first two snaps of the game.
Those would be the last carries the second-year back would see as Lance Ball, Jeremiah Johnson and Jacob Hester took care of the run game for the rest of the night.
"It was as much for Ronnie as anything," Head Coach John Fox said of the decision to have Hillman start. "Just to throw him in there and he popped off a great run. It was a positive point in his mind."
After fumbling in each of Denver's last two preseason games entering the team's preseason finale, the coaching staff wanted to give the 2012 third-round draft pick a confidence-building end to the preseason.
"They just wanted me to get in there and just get a couple carries so I don't go into the
(Baltimore) game with that fumble in my head," Hillman said. "That's what it was."
After the St. Louis fumble, Fox affirmed his confidence in Hillman, something that the running back never lost in himself.
"I mean, it was out of my head before," Hillman said. "It's nice to get out there and be able to play and get a couple carries. I wanted to stay in, but they said I've got to get out."
With the regular-season opener just a week away, Ball and Moreno didn't play at all against the Cardinals on Thursday night.
The fact that the rookie running back was rested instead of sent onto the field didn't change his mindset of looking for ways to improve.
"I came into this game expecting to play but it didn't happen," Ball said. "I don't want to read too much into it but right now I still have room to improve. I most definitely want to be that back that this team needs."
The running back competition has been fierce throughout training camp. Five different backs have run for 50-or-more yards in the preseason, with the only ones not included in that number being Jeremiah Johnson, who had his preseason shortened due to injury, and short-yardage back Jacob Hester.
Both Johnson and Hester found the end zone on Thursday night against the Cardinals.
"There's a lot of competition right now," Hillman said. "It's going to be interesting to see what they do, coming tomorrow and the next couple of days. All of those guys that play can play anywhere, so it's going to be interesting to see."
The team is planning to rely on any and every running back that lands on the final 53-man
roster. Regardless of which running back gets first-team reps in practice, they can all expect to have their number called come gameday.
For the most part, Hillman and Ball have split those first-team reps this offseason, and both expect to play a major role in the offense this year.
"We're both going to get numerous carries," Hillman said. "It's 1a, 1b — it's not starters."