August 25, 2015

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Ronnie Hillman and the zone-blocking scheme are proving a perfect fit in Denver.

The fourth-year running back has gashed opponents for 120 yards on 16 carries this preseason and leapfrogged Montee Ball as C.J. Anderson's backup.

''I feel like I fit in any kind of offense, but this one, especially in the zone scheme, it just fits my abilities a lot more than other ones would,'' Hillman said Monday.

Known more for his speed and his burst to the edge, Hillman has found the one-cut offense to his liking, averaging an eye-popping 7.5 yards a carry.

''In this offense, they want you to stretch and then go downfield as fast as possible. I think that ties in when you're kind of fast and everybody thinks that you're going to the edge, and then you just go right up the field,'' Hillman said.

Early in camp, coach Gary Kubiak admonished Hillman to ''practice a little better, finish a little better.''

Hillman took the advice to heart.

''He felt like he could get a lot more out of me,'' Hillman said. ''I just went back and thought about it. I just go all-out and whatever I can do, I just do it. ... The conversation that we had, he was just trying to get a lot more out of me, and that's what I was trying to give.

''It's paying off so far.''

A couple of weeks ago, Kubiak praised Hillman's protection of the passer.

''I think the thing I'm most impressed with Ronnie is I know that when people blitz us, I can leave him on the field. He'll pick up a blitz. He'll stand in there,'' Kubiak said. ''For his size, reminds me of Justin (Forsett) a little bit, who I had in Baltimore and I had in Houston. A little bit the same type of player.''

Hillman started a few times last season and had a pair of 100-yard days, but sprained his left foot and missed six weeks down the stretch. He was in a walking boot while Anderson was rumbling through defenses on his way to the Pro Bowl.

When Kubiak was hired, he said Anderson deserved incumbent status, and the first depth chart of training camp had Ball as the backup and Hillman the third-stringer. Ball reeled off a 12-yard run against the Seahawks but has gained just 18 yards on his 11 other carries. Hillman has averaged 8.3 yards and 6.8 yards in Denver's two games.

At 20, Hillman was the youngest player in the NFL his rookie year in 2012. Gaining traction in the pros proved difficult for him before Kubiak came to town.

''It's hard to say how I'd respond if this scheme was here my rookie year or anything, but you definitely mature a lot more as the years go by,'' Hillman said.

He's focused now more on his career than the club scene.

''I think that it just happened naturally. A lot of stuff just became a lot less interesting to me,'' Hillman said. ''I just think that it's definitely helping out right now.''


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