Things appeared to be looking up this year for Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman after a less than impressive rookie year. Hillman gained 15-20 pounds of muscle, but his game breaking speed wasn't effected. Though the Denver Broncos would use a 2nd round pick on rookie RB Montee Ball, Hillman was primed to get the majority of carries. Even in training camp, Hillman received the majority of snaps with the first team. He was making plays, busting touchdowns in practice. He was impressing coaches and cementing the starting spot for the upcoming 2013. Everything was going great. Then preseason came.
In just two preseason games, Hillman hurt much of the goodwill he built up only weeks ago by turning the ball over.
In week 2 of preseason, the Denver Broncos faced the Seattle Seahawks. It was by far Denver's worst performance, losing 40-10. In that loss, Hillman fumbled the ball twice on just 13 carries for 34 yards. Denver recovered one of the fumbles, but Hillman wouldn't be so lucky with the other one. Hillman fumbled the ball just before scoring and it was returned by the Seahawks for a 106 yard touchdown. That disaster would account for 14 points given up by the Denver Broncos.
In week 3 of preseason against the St. Louis Rams, things got worse for Hillman. Hillman was effective with 6 carries for 34 yards and 3 receptions for 15 yards, but he would have another costly mistake. With about 10 minutes left in the second quarter, Hillman would cough up the ball on Denver's 13 yard line that would result in another defensive touchdown. From that point on, Hillman would be essentially benched while all the other starters continued to play the rest of the quarter.
At practice today, Hillman would continue to receive the cold shoulder. Hillman would be passed up for Montee Ball for the majority of first team work at practice. Ball is coming off his most impressive game where he had 14 carries for 43 yards, 2 receptions for 27 yards and an impressive goal line touchdown.
Though Hillman appears to have lost some of the coaches' confidence, there is still plenty of time to turn that around. The good news for Hillman is all these costly mistakes have happened in preseason. It's much easier to forgive Hillman in meaningless games compared to a regular season or playoff game.
With that said, Hillman will have to prove to coaches and QB Peyton Manning that they can trust giving him the ball. That means Hillman must avoid putting the ball on the ground in the limited snaps he may initially get. If he can't, he could find himself seeing the field from the sidelines in 2013.