NFL Nation: Andre Hall
HOUSTON -- Lightning in the area forced the Texans and Saints inside for their second practice Wednesday. Bummer, I thought. It'll be cramped in there and we'll see them do far less.
But in terms of focus and watchability, it was actually better than the morning.
Outside of some special teams work, both teams drove the ball from just over midfield against the defenses for much of the practice. There was also a section of alternating possessions where the offenses tried to string together longer drives, at least some of which were 2-minute drills.
Some highlights and thoughts:
- Saints cornerback Randall Gay made a nice play in coverage of Jacoby Jones, prompting a fumble after a nice catch of a Dan Orlovsky pass. Side Judge Jeff Lamberth told the assistant coaches and players to in range of him on the sideline that Gay played it just right, that a hand on the back was not an issue because he wasn't clutching, twisting or pushing with it. Lamberth told me it was a catch and fumble.
- When the teams were driving the longer field, Matt Schaub was intercepted deep while aiming for Andre Davis but New Orleans' first-rounder Malcolm Jenkins, who sprinted with it for what would have been a return touchdown. The Texans defense answered back in a hurry, as Fred Bennett got under a less than great deep ball intended for Robert Meachem from Joey Harrington. The response produced some major hoots and hollers from the Texans along the sideline.
- Ryan Moats had a drop but got a lot of carries when the Texans handed the ball off and caught several check downs -- too many, I felt like, even some in seven-on-seven work. Chris Brown is lined up to be the primary compliment to Steve Slaton, but Moats got the bulk of that work in both practices Wednesday. He's a darter with potential, but on a team that needs a bigger back as the second guy, if the Texans have to turn to Moats I wonder if he doesn't qualify as more Slaton-Lite?
- Mark Brunell threw a TD pass to tight end Buck Ortega that linebacker Kevin Bentley could have deflected with a small move of his outstretched arm had he seen it sooner. It's the kind of play that could have had a different outcome had Ortega had to fear or absorb a shot that was lined up for more than one defender,
- Schaub was picked on a deep ball, but was not at fault. Owen Daniels couldn't pull it in, and when it bounced off his hands linebacker Scott Fujita snatched it.
- In seven-on-seven red zone work, Schaub twice hit David Anderson over the middle at the goal line. A bit later, he rolled right and -- intending to pump fake or changing his mind about throwing it and attempting to pull it down -- he let the ball slip out of his hand and fall awkwardly incomplete only a few yards in front of him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
They simply liked Hillis as a football player. They liked him as an under-the-radar tailback. But they didn't think of him as a starter in the NFL. They liked him equally well as a soft-handed fullback who could be a receiving threat out of the backfield. They also liked him as a potential H-back. The Broncos looked at the big, fast kid from Arkansas who was best known as the lead blocker for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and they saw a Dallas Clark-like player.
Denver saw a lot they liked in a player they had a fourth-round grade on. When Hillis was still available in the seventh round, Denver -- which thought it had solved its need at running back in the fifth round by taking Arizona State rookie Ryan Torain -- jumped at the chance to take him. They didn't know where they'd play him, but they knew they got a good player.
With four games remaining in the season and a playoff berth looming for the 7-5 Broncos -- whose magic number to win the AFC West is two heading into Sunday's home game against the Kansas City Chiefs -- Hillis has become much more than a good football player.
He has become a savior of their offense. If not for Hillis, the balanced attack for which Denver is famous wouldn't be possible.
After season-ending injuries to Torain, Michael Pittman, Andre Hall, Anthony Alridge and an injury to Selvin Young, the Broncos broke the emergency glass and inserted Hillis in the lineup as a tailback. They had no other choice.
And he has been flourishing.
"We knew he was an athlete when he first stepped foot here in Denver, the way he can catch the ball and the way he can run with the ball, we knew we had somebody special," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall told reporters in the locker room Thursday. "There definitely hasn't been a dropoff at running back since he's been back there."
The Broncos are used to this type of sudden impact at this position. Denver has had nine running backs rush for 100 yards in a game since 2004, the most in the NFL.
Hillis has made an instant impact. His rushing totals increased in each of his past four games. He had 129 yards on the ground in Denver's 34-17 road upset over the Jets on Sunday. He is averaging 4.8 yards a carry and he has four rushing scores.
With McFadden struggling all season because of turf toe injuries and Jones done for the season in Dallas, the lead blocker for the two first-round picks from Arkansas is stealing the show in the NFL. Hillis' early success after an obscure college existence reminds some in the NFL of the situation Brandon Jacobs endured while at Auburn. He was overshadowed by Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams before he transferred to Southern Illinois. Now Jacobs is making a for himself.
Hillis, 22, is certainly making a name for himself in Denver. His teammates love the happy runner with that lovable southern twang. Hillis won over his teammates in Cleveland on Nov. 6 when he converted a first down on fourth-and-short with a second-effort run. The play ignited a Denver comeback that was the spark to a streak in which the Broncos have won three of four games despite all of the injuries at tailback and on defense.
"I'm just glad I have come in here and fit in," Hillis said. "I think some people might be surprised but I feel like I'm a versatile guy who could come in here and help and I hope that's what I'm doing."
The Broncos are winning and Hillis, who is 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds, is a big reason why. Quarterback Jay Cutler said Hillis, who has 4.5 speed, is a perfect Denver running back.
"I think this running scheme is kind of designed for him," Cutler said. "It is one cut, get downhill, get your five or six yards and every once in a while you can break a 30- or 40-yarder if you get up on the safeties. He has done a good job. He is a smart kid, and I think we have used him effectively. We have tried to play off his strengths. We haven't put him in the position where we have had to ask him to do things he can't do. He has stepped up to the challenge and has been fun to watch."
The Broncos aren't necessarily looking at Hillis as a stopgap answer at tailback. There are those in the Denver organization who believe he will have a role as a tailback next season. The team also likes Torain and he will get a chance to play when he recovers from a knee injury. And it wouldn't be a surprise if Denver added a veteran. But there will be room for Hillis.
"He has proven that he can play tailback," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said."He is better with the ball in his hands at the tailback position running the football or catching the pass out of the backfield. He is going to get a chance to play more tailback because of what he has done and how he can break tackles."
Hillis, a star high school tailback in Arkansas, wasn't expecting the chance to be a running back in the NFL, but he isn't ready to let it go, either.
"I hope I get to continue to play tailback," Hillis said. "But I'll do anything the team wants me to do."
And that's exactly why the Broncos drafted him in the first place.
Around the AFC West:
The word is that weakside linebacker D.J. Williams might be out 3-4 weeks with an MCL injury. More information is expected Tuesday. But Denver put two players -- running backs Michael Pittman and Andre Hall -- on the injured reserve list Monday and likely would have done the same with Williams had it been a more serious injury.
Denver is expected to add a couple of players to the 53-man roster Tuesday morning. It wouldn't be a surprise to see running back P.J. Pope promoted from the practice squad. The team will surely add a running back.
The Chiefs were looking at running backs as well Monday. It wouldn't be a surprise if they add some players, including a running back as early as Tuesday. Kolby Smith is out for the year after suffering a knee injury Sunday.
The name of former Oakland coach Lane Kiffin has been connected to the pending coaching opening at Tennessee as well as at Washington and Clemson. The rumblings around the league is that Kiffin, despite a 5-15 record, is being helped by the fact that Oakland has nosedived after he was fired. Even though Oakland was 1-3 under Kiffin, they were competing hard. Under interim head coach Tom Cable, the Raiders are 1-3 and have been outscored 87-13 in their losses under Cable.
|AP Photo/David Zalubowski|
|Rookie Ryan Torain could be the solution to Denver's problems in the running game.|
Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson
Coming off a rushing effort in which they compiled 14 yards rushing (the second lowest in team history) Sunday against Miami, the Broncos have to replace half their running back crew.
Denver put starter Michael Pittman and backup Andre Hall on the injured reserve. Pittman has a neck injury and Hall has has a hand injury. Now, the Broncos' only running backs on the roster are second-year player Selvin Young, who has missed the past three games with a groin injury, and rookie Ryan Torain, who made his NFL debut on Sunday and he had one yard on three carries. Torain broke his elbow in training camp.
And making matters worse, Denver, which has lost four of the past five games, have to play Thursday at Cleveland.
Expect Torain and Young to carry the load against the Browns on a short week. The plan was to ease Torain into the offense against Miami and he may be ready for more action Thursday. Young was close to being healthy last week and he could be ready to help Thursday.
Still, Torain isn't ready to help in the passing game and Young has had major durability issues.
It is clear Denver will try to add a running back or two to the mix. But the rest of the season depends on Torain and Young, probably in that order. Torain will be given every chance to become the go-to back. When he was injured, the team was devastated. Denver coach Mike Shanahan, one of the most successful running coaches in the history of the NFL, compared Torain, a fifth-round pick from Arizona State, to Denver great Terrell Davis.
The Broncos think Torain, who nearly stole the starting job in camp before he was hurt, has the perfect size-speed combination to excel in their zone-blocking offense. The Broncos certainly need him to excel. The run game has been stagnant. The Broncos are ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing as it is averaging 105.2 yards a game. That is way before Denver's standards.
Another reason why Torain is being asked to produce is because there aren't many running backs remaining on the open market. So help isn't necessarily on the way. Former Denver running backs highlight the list of available rushers. They include Tatum Bell, Mike Bell and Ron Dayne. Other running backs available are Anthony Thomas, Vernand Morency and Wali Lundy. Denver has visited with both of those players in the past. Morency visited Denver a few weeks ago. The team could also promote running back P.J. Pope from the practice squad.
Denver could also potentially use rookie fullback Peyton Hillis at tailback. He has experience there and he is an emergency tailback for Denver. He is coming off his best NFL game. The seventh-round pick, who blocked for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in college, has seven catches against Miami.
Still, expect Torain to be given the ball and given the opportunity to knock the banged-up Broncos out of their malaise.
Hall has two rush attempts for minus-7 yards and two lost fumbles. Not exactly a stat line you want on the back of your trading card.
Hall, a second-year pro out of South Florida, came into the game when starting running back Michael Pittman suffered a minor injury that briefly sidelined him on the opening drive. The Broncos had converted three third downs and driven to the Patriots' 32-yard line when Hall lost his handle.
Hall fumbled again on the fourth play of their second drive. The ball was snapped from the New England 37-yard line but was recovered on the Denver 22.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
- Broncos running back Andre Hall played well hours after the death of his mother on Monday.
- The Chiefs have added backup quarterback Ingle Martin. With Brodie Croyle likely out 2-4 weeks with a separated shoulder, Martin provides depth behind Damon Huard and Tyler Thigpen. The Chiefs also considered Chris Simms and Tim Rattay.
- The Raiders were not good on the field and some fans didn't behave in the stands Monday night.
- Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said Darren McFadden was the recipient of a "cheap shot."
- Philip Rivers is not interested in fighting with Denver quarterback Jay Cutler.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
OAKLAND -- Quick thoughts midway through the third quarter:
- The Denver defense looks much improved. It is controlling this game so far.
- At one point late in the second quarter, Jay Cutler had 172 passing yards. JaMarcus Russell had nine.
- The Denver run offense has not been impressive. Andre Hall, Selvin Young and Michael Pittman have all be pedestrian. So far, Denver doesn't need a big game from them.
- The Raiders must get tight end Zach Miller more involved in the offense. He can help bail out Russell.
- The Raiders are supposed to have one of the best secondaries in the league. It hasn't shown up to tonight as Cutler is ripping them apart and the Broncos lead 24-0.