Pro Football Weekly
Dec. 12, 2008
By Dan Parr
Hillis expected to return in different role for Broncos next season
Updated at 9:55 a.m. EST Monday, Dec. 15
The Broncos’ backfield lost yet another valuable piece in Week 14, as Peyton Hillis became the sixth Denver running back to suffer a serious injury this season. After Hillis sustained a season-ending hamstring tear, he joined four other rushers — Michael Pittman, Andre Hall, Ryan Torain and Anthony Alridge — on injured reserve. A fifth banged-up Bronco, Selvin Young, has missed seven of the last nine games with a nagging groin injury.
Losing Hillis was a surprisingly devastating blow for Denver. A month earlier, Hillis was only a fullback that made occasional contributions to the passing game as a receiver. He had evolved into the team’s tough, hard-charging featured back in a matter of weeks, scoring five rushing TDs in four starts. Following his injury, the Broncos are scratching rock bottom with a makeshift collection of rushers, led by Tatum Bell, who was out of the league until about a month ago, and P.J. Pope.
While Hillis is done for the rest of 2008, sources in Denver say he figures greatly into the club’s plans for next season, although not as a featured back. We hear head coach Mike Shanahan envisions Hillis fulfilling a role as an H-back, and, while they play different positions, he could have similar duties to those that the Colts’ Dallas Clark and Redskins’ Chris Cooley have handled in the past, one team observer told PFW. The Broncos think Hillis, who caught seven passes for 116 yards and TD vs. the Dolphins in Week Nine, has good hands and they want to utilize him as a receiver. He also could be called upon in short-yardage situations and near the goal line, where he is particularly effective as a bruising, straight-ahead rusher.
We’re told the Broncos still have high hopes for Torain, who was able to play in just two games his rookie year after tearing his ACL in Week 10. He missed the first half of the season because of an elbow injury.
As for the rest of the assortment of backs, all could return next season, but if things work out the way Shanahan would like, Torain will be Denver’s top rusher in ’09. It’s nice to know, though, that Hillis provides some reliable insurance in case another slew of injuries wipes the slate of true running backs clean.