NFL Nation: Eric Studesville

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When it comes to running backs bursting through the line and on to the scene, the Denver Broncos have sort of written the book on this sort of thing.

Or as running backs coach Eric Studesville has put it; "It's all about opportunity and sometimes we have certainly been the land of opportunity."

In fact, in the post T.D. era, it has become habit really. Yes, since Terrell Davis concluded his decorated tenure as The Guy in the Broncos' offense, there have been flirtations with the back-in-the-day No. 1 back, most notably in Clinton Portis' time with the team.

Then Portis was traded before the 2004 season, as part of the Champ Bailey deal, and since the plug-and-play system has been in place, either because of injuries, roster moves or the light simply went on for a back who had waited for his turn. But since the start of the '04 season, the Broncos have had five different running backs post a 1,000-yard rushing season -- Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno.

They have had two other running backs lead the team in rushing at least one season in that span with less than 1,000 yards -- Selvin Young and Peyton Hillis -- while Moreno and McGahee also led the team in rushing in at least one season each without reaching 1,000 yards.

But this time, as Football America looks on with more than a few raised eyebrows, the Broncos may have out-done themselves with the unveiling of C.J. Anderson. In the Broncos' 29-16 win against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night, Anderson became the first NFL running back since Adrian Peterson in 2012 to post back-to-back games with at least 150 yards rushing, the first to do it for the Broncos since Droughns did it in '04.

And for that slice of history, Anderson read a text from his mother, Neva Craig, that said "stay humble."

Anderson, who now has all of three career starts, has rushed for 167 and 168 yards in the last two of those starts, which happen to be the last two Broncos' wins. He had 201 yards rushing in his first 11 games this season, including being a game-day inactive in Week 5 and not getting a carry in Week 6. He's now had 335 yards rushing in the past two games as the Broncos have topped 200 yards rushing in each of the wins against the Dolphins and Chiefs.

"I just feel like I belong," Anderson said. "That's how I've always felt, the way I prepare, the way we prepare as a running back group, just the way we prepare and the way we approach every week, every day. Any of us can have that day. I don't feel like it was a hot hand, I just feel like the coaches trusting me, [No.] 18 putting us in the right positions, the O-line doing a hell of a job."

It would have been a nonsensical thought even three weeks ago, but Anderson now needs to average a lofty, but doable, 116 yards over the final four games to reach 1,000 for the season. This from a player whose roster spot was shaky during offseason workouts and minicamp because the team's decision-makers thought he looked sluggish.

But the injuries to Montee Ball (right groin) and Ronnie Hillman (left foot) made Anderson the next man up, so consider the opportunity seized. So much so on Monday that Broncos head coach John Fox deflected the first of what figures to be many of the inevitable what-happens-when-others-guys-are-healthy questions with, "We'll cross that bridge when it happens, right now he's playing very well and he's our starting running back."

Anderson also has a fairly new problem as well as his work, and workload, has become under the fantasy football microscope. Asked Monday about how many texts or contacts he gets on social media about fantasy football these days, Anderson said: "Too many, too many to just look. I guess I could say to all the fantasy players out there, I just love what I do and I'm having fun, but don't get mad if certain situations come up and I decide not to get in the end zone, not to make that long run, because I'm trying to win games at the end of the day and that's all that matters."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When former Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno had scratched and clawed his way out of the depth chart doghouse to post his best season as a professional in 2013 (1,038 yards rushing and 60 receptions), running backs coach Eric Studesville said this:

"I hope guys, young guys, older guys, anybody, look at what Knowshon did for himself, how he worked, how he carried himself to go from where he was to do what he did, and see that's exactly how you handle football adversity."

Well, consider the point taken. In a meeting room where no running back has played more than two seasons worth of games in the NFL, Ronnie Hillman was apparently paying attention.

While Montee Ball is this team's starter and the guy who will lug the rock much of the time, Hillman has the most potential to be a home-run hitter in the run game. Hillman's potential, though, has far outweighed his accomplishments.

Last year he was handed the first crack at the starting job in offseason workouts, but by the time the Broncos rolled into the regular-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens Hillman had just four carries in that game. By the eighth game of the season, Hillman was a game day inactive and eventually did not play in any of the Broncos' postseason games.

So it could be easy to be jaded about any uptick the Broncos say they see in Hillman's play because last season is still fresh in many people's minds. They've heard about potential before, heard what he could give to the offense.

"But I love what Ronnie has done," Studesville said. "From when we started this spring in April forward, he has been unbelievable. He's a completely different guy in the best possible way and I'm just excited about what he's doing, how he's approaching it, how he's making plays on the field. It's been great. It's been there the whole time, but we're finally seeing the maximum side of it. ... I didn't do a good job of bringing it out, but now we are, he's bringing it out."

During offseason workouts, offensive coordinator Adam Gase said the depth chart behind Ball was "wide open." Since the start of training camp, however, Hillman has been solidly No. 2 in the rotation. C.J. Anderson has nudged himself back into the No. 3 spot, for now, after losing about 20 pounds and rebounding from a sluggish performance in OTAs and minicamp. Rookies Juwan Thompson, Brennan Clay and Kapri Bibbs have also gotten some select carries in the No. 3 spot, while Thompson has had a few with the No. 2 offense in short-yardage work.

But it is an odd twist of fate and roster building that Hillman, who is entering his third season in the league after being a third-round pick by the Broncos in 2012, is the most experienced back on the team. Hillman has flashed his speed to the corner in the run game, the acceleration with a screen pass in his hands and far more willingness to dig in and take on a rusher in pass protection.

"Give a lot of credit to him," Studesville said. "For ... sitting back and looking at two years in the NFL, a talented guy who should be here, who's demonstrated he's got the ability to be here and wasn't playing for whatever reason. And he found a way to turn that around and turn our eyes around ... and we love what we're seeing."

Asked what he's learned along the way and Hillman has been quick to say "that you have to be accountable ... that I probably relaxed a little bit last year when maybe I shouldn't have. It won't happen again ... I come in here every day with a chip on my shoulder."

Hillman has also been savvy enough to add "you have to show it in how you practice and what you do in games. I want to make plays in games that help us do good things."
Maybe it would be different for Knowshon Moreno if some things had happened more quickly for him than they did. Or maybe it would be different if some things hadn't happened at all.

But in the wake of a season in which he finally turned potential into production for the Denver Broncos -- when he rebounded from injuries, grew up and became the most reliable option in the Broncos' run game -- Moreno will soon be one of the most proven running backs on the open market.

Because that's where the Broncos' chief football decision-maker, John Elway, said all of the team's unrestricted free agents were headed with "I think they have to hit the market, the market sets those [contracts]."

[+] EnlargeDenver's Knowshon Moreno
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderKnowshon Moreno is expected to get better offers in free agency than the Broncos are willing to make.
After Montee Ball missed a blitz pickup in a preseason loss in Seattle and quarterback Peyton Manning took what was perhaps the biggest hit he's taken in his Broncos tenure, Moreno was largely the running back of choice in any situation. Moreno became the best option in pass protection when the Broncos were in their three-wide-receiver set, which was on roughly three of every four plays they ran last season, and he was the top choice in the run game as well.

And when all was said and done in the team's record-setting performance on offense, Moreno -- a player whose maturity, preparation and attention span were questioned at times in his first five seasons in Denver -- was suddenly the standard bearer.

Moreno's a guy who, as running backs coach Eric Studesville put it, "if one of our other guys wants to see how to do it, how to come to work and work, no matter where you are on the depth chart, Knowshon is the guy to look at ... I always say, I'd like to think I played a small role in that, but Knowshon did that. Knowshon made himself into what he is."

Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards (his first 1,000-yard season) and scored 10 rushing touchdowns, one of five Broncos players with at least 10 touchdowns last season. He also caught 60 passes and three more touchdowns. Toss in the fact he was the best option as a pass protector in the backfield as well, and the Broncos have plenty of work to spread around in a run game that is expected to be a priority in the coming months.

"When you talk about Knowshon, he had a tremendous year for us," Elway said. "You look at the year -- he was reliable, he caught the ball, ran the football for us and was also tremendous in pass protection. Knowshon was a big part of what we did this year."

But Moreno had a torn ACL repaired in 2011 to go with a stem-cell procedure on his knee last offseason after he was injured in the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He also missed much of two training camps early in his career with injuries and the Broncos have begun the plan to move on over the past two years having selected Ronnie Hillman in the third round of the 2012 draft and Ball in the second round of the 2013 draft.

Moreno will turn 27 in July, so in the world of running backs he's still considered by personnel executives to have some miles left on the career odometer. The knee injuries will be a concern for some evaluators, especially if Moreno's representatives are looking for a longer-term deal.

The Broncos could give Moreno a look later in free agency on their terms, but he is expected to draw a better offer elsewhere.

The Broncos will look for Ball to go from productive No. 2 option -- 559 yards rushing at 4.7 yards per carry this past season -- to starter in the coming weeks. Ball, who lost three fumbles by Nov. 24 last season, settled in nicely the rest of the way, playing well down the stretch and into the postseason. Ball also caught 20 passes last season and his role in the passing game will be the part of his skill set that will need the most attention in the offseason. With Manning at quarterback, the No. 1 back in the Broncos' offense is always going to be a threat for 50 receptions.

Hillman is facing a critical offseason. The Broncos handed him the starting job last May and into training camp.

Not only did Hillman not keep the job, he didn't respond well with the competition as the season wore on and was a non-factor for much of the year and especially in the postseason.

There is a crop of bigger running backs in this draft -- there were 17 running backs at this year's scouting combine who weighed in at 218 pounds or more compared to 10 at the 2013 combine and 14 in 2012 -- and the Broncos will give several of those runners a long look in the draft.

But in the end they certainly like what Moreno became this past season. Now they want Ball to be all that, and perhaps even a little more.

Studesville honors his parents

January, 31, 2014
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- There are moments, some big, some small, when the son thinks of his father, thinks of his mother. Perhaps it's a ring of the phone, a knock at the door, just the day-to-day things that play out in a life that nudge a memory to the front.

[+] EnlargeEric Studesville
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsBroncos assistant Eric Studesville, right, kept his focus on his job following the death of his parents.
And when Eric Studesville stepped down from the bus that carried the Denver Broncos from the airport to the hotel that would be their home for most of Super Bowl week, he had one of those moments. As the front doors to a well-appointed lobby slid open and he walked inside, he thought, just for a tick of the clock, that they would be there.

"My dad would have wanted to be here so bad -- I know he's watching, both of them are watching -- but he wanted so badly for me to experience this, that's what he wanted. My mom did too. They talked about it quite a bit," Studesville said. "To be here without them is hard. But they would have been here the beginning of the week; there's no way they would have waited until Thursday when the families were supposed to come in. They would have been at our hotel when we landed on Sunday, sitting in the lobby waiting for us. He would have been sitting there in his Broncos hat. They would have been in all of their gear. They would have been here waiting on us. I looked when we walked in and it really did take me a second to sort of know they weren't there."

Studesville is the only child of Al and Jan Studesville. The Broncos' running backs coach considers himself a product of their guidance and love, which is the very foundation of why he is so close to achieving his profession's ultimate goal.

Studesville's parents were killed in June 2013 when, police said, an 18-wheeler crossed the center line on a highway in the Texas Panhandle and struck the couple's motorcycle head-on. The two were pronounced dead at the scene. Al was 67, Jan 68.

Eric Studesville was suddenly in an emotional place he didn't expect to be, dealing with the aftermath of sorting through his parents' lives and affairs.

"Right then, you're just trying to help," Broncos rookie running back Montee Ball said. "That's what we tried to do -- at least I hope we helped him in some way. I hope that he knows that we love him, because we do love him. I think for us, other than just saying words, just being around him helped him, because you can't say you know how he feels because you probably don't. So, just support him, just be there."

A team, at least on the inside, is often an open book of life. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has often compared it to a small town, where everybody you pass on the street each day knows of your victories, your trials, your stumbles, your happiness and sadness.

Some days were harder than others, some days were excruciating, and some days simply reminded Studesville of the common experiences people have when loved ones die. The running backs are frequent visitors to Studesville's home, including this past Thanksgiving.

"Work kind of became that place where I focused in on a task in front of me," Studesville said. "You had all of these things to deal with all around, family and other things, just to take care of. But the people around me, my wife, my kids, friends, people I know from Madison [Wis.], just so many people ... everybody collectively is just trying to fill in that hole in my heart, my life, and they are doing a great job. I feel so blessed."

Studesville is a take-care-of-it kind of guy. In 2010, when the Broncos' season dissolved into what would be a 4-12 finish, after Josh McDaniels had been fired in the wake of the losing and a Spygate scandal, the Broncos looked to Studesville.

Though he was in just his first season as the Broncos' running backs coach, the Broncos asked Studesville to be the team's interim head coach. They asked Studesville to be out front as the team began its dig out from what current football boss John Elway has called "rock bottom."

When John Fox was hired as coach, he retained Studesville, and in the seasons that have followed running back Knowshon Moreno recovered from major knee surgery and from a tenuous roster spot to be a key piece in a record-setting offense. The Broncos signed QB Peyton Manning and put together back-to-back 13-3 seasons on the way to this Super Bowl trip.

"I'm pushing myself right now, and I can hear his voice at times, just telling me to finish what we started," Studesville said. "So you keep focusing on the task and remember to enjoy everything about it."

When the Broncos defeated the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game to earn a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII, Studesville felt the confetti fall, exchanged hugs, and watched the Lamar Hunt trophy passed from person to person.

"Moments like that you think of where you've been, what you've done, the people who believed in your, your family and how important they are to you," Studesville said. "And then, by the time the game ended to the time I got to my locker, I had 111 text messages. I can't bring my parents back, but I can live the way I think is right, the way they think is right -- but just the support I've received from every part of my life is humbling. It's truly humbling."
Just four days ago, Denver Broncos coach John Fox was on the practice field telling his team it had to be ready for anything when the second half of the season begins Monday.

On Saturday, those words turned out to be quite the prediction after Fox found himself in a Charlotte, N.C., area hospital. Many team officials, including members of Fox’s coaching staff, expressed their relief Saturday evening to hear Fox was “doing fine," as he said in a text message to ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen. Fox had been taken in for tests after experiencing light-headedness during a round of golf.


Fox, a former head coach of the Carolina Panthers for nine seasons, still has a home in suburban Charlotte. The 58-year-old was undergoing further tests and evaluation Saturday night, and the possibility remained for what team officials called a “minor procedure" to be performed.

The Broncos (7-1) have a bye this week, and coaches and players were given Thursday through Sunday off. On Monday morning, the Broncos have a regularly scheduled team meeting at 8:05 a.m. PT. But news of Fox being taken to a hospital traveled quickly among team personnel, who may have to make some adjustments in the coming days if doctors advise Fox to refrain from working at all in the week to come.

The Broncos’ medical staff was in contact with the doctors treating Fox on Saturday night and will apprise the team’s football operations staff and coaching staff of when Fox will be discharged from the hospital and return to Denver. Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway was in contact with Fox as well.

But if Fox is forced to miss any time in the coming week, he has assistant coaches in place who could coordinate the Broncos' efforts through a game week. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would run practice this week if Fox was not in attendance, and the two would set the on-field and meeting schedule for their respective groups as they normally do. Special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers would run those units.

Del Rio, who was the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach for nine seasons before he came to Denver, has the experience to act as a public spokesman in the days leading up to the Nov. 10 game against the Chargers in San Diego. Del Rio could certainly manage the sideline during a game if Fox was not available to return to his duties by next weekend.

Also on Fox’s staff is running backs coach Eric Studesville, who was the team’s interim head coach to close out the 2010 season after Josh McDaniels was fired with four games remaining in the season.

Earlier this season, Fox lauded the experience of his staff.

"We've got a lot of guys who have seen a lot of football in this league," he said. "It is a great group, and I feel like it gives us an advantage in a lot of ways."

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos' 41-23 win over the New York Giants:

Bigger still better sometimes: It is certainly an odd quirk, and frankly not always logical at first blush, but a team built decidedly to be a three-wide affair on offense has now needed to go to two tight ends in each of its first two games to reset things when they have the ball. In the opener the Broncos waited 20 plays before they tried a two-tight end look, and on Sunday they didn’t do it until their first possession of the second half after they had run 40 snaps of three-wide in the first half. The result was slightly more pop in the run game and three consecutive touchdown drives to open the second half after they sprinkled it in. As quarterback Peyton Manning said, “It’s just one guy for another," but it keeps making a difference. And as Joel Dreessen gets closer to a return to the lineup after two offseason arthroscopic knee surgeries, it's something they will likely consider a little more from time to time, even as they quickly move back into a three-wide look when they feel they have a better flow.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Elsa/Getty ImagesMontee Ball needs to protect the ball better if he hopes to get more touches.
Code yellow: Yes, referee Gene Steratore’s crew called a tight game in the secondary -- the Broncos had eight penalties called on defensive backs alone -- but Denver still has to be a more disciplined lot all around. A 132-yard penalty total is not always going to be camouflaged by an 18-point win. The taunting penalty on defensive tackle Terrance Knighton in the third quarter is part of a league push to dial down the post-play stuff. And like it or not -- and Broncos coach John Fox certainly made it clear during the game that he didn't agree with more than a few of the flags -- the Broncos have to adjust.

Confidence game: Running backs coach Eric Studesville will have some work to do with the Broncos' young backs to keep them engaged. Ronnie Hillman got just one carry against the Giants, likely a tough total to swallow for the guy who was the starter all through the offseason, and rookie Montee Ball is averaging just 2 yards a carry and lost a fumble against the Giants. The Broncos are going to need both of those players to produce when called upon, and they've had a bumpy ride in the early going.

Clady’s injury a question: A lot of what the Broncos want to do in the offensive front, especially in pass protection, is based on Ryan Clady being at left tackle. The Broncos have not shown the same pop on offense when he isn’t there. He suffered a left foot injury Sunday and was limping after the game. It will bear watching through the week, because the Broncos have a more difficult time opening up the formation when he's not in there.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos coach John Fox has made it pretty clear he wants to get Von Miller as much work as possible, even with a six-game suspension on the horizon for the two-time Pro Bowl selection.

And it's pretty clear when Fox does that it means somebody else isn't getting the work. A tough call, but Fox has elected to keep Miller engaged and with the starters as the suspension nears.

Fox has had to weigh the benefits of working Miller in the starting defense now to better prepare Miller for his scheduled return to the field in Week 7, against the snaps that could have gone to players elsewhere on the developmental curve. Because every snap Miller takes in practice, as well as in the preseason games, is a snap that didn’t go to one of the Broncos younger, less experienced players.

Fox said following the league’s announcement of the suspension he would play Miller against the Rams this past Saturday and he did just that, starting Miller in the game. Miller finished with 18 snaps on defense. Miller will also play Thursday night against the Cardinals in the preseason finale and will officially begin his suspension Saturday.

But as Fox explained it this past weekend, Miller has a six-game suspension and “I wasn’t going to make it eight."

All of that said, however, it has really been injuries to Robert Ayers (Achilles/ankle) and Derek Wolfe (neck) that have made it possible for the Broncos to work Miller and still get the linebackers the work they need to cover for his absence. Miller played at defensive end against the Rams and is expected to do that against the Cardinals as well. Miller worked with the starters at defensive end in Monday’s practice, with veteran Shaun Phillips at the other defensive end spot, while Wesley Woodyard, Nate Irving (in Miller’s strong-side linebacker spot) and Danny Trevathan worked at linebacker in base defense.

Malik Jackson, a fifth-round pick in the 2012 draft, has also gotten plenty of work with Wolfe and Ayers being out. Like they do with Wolfe, the Broncos like Jackson’s potential because he can play on the interior in the defensive line and at end.
  • Broncos running back coach Eric Studesville may grow hoarse as he tries to get the message across, but with the regular season closing in, pass protection will continue to be a huge piece of the decision about who plays at running back for the Broncos. And it’s why Knowshon Moreno has steadily worked his way into the conversation and earned a selection of snaps with the starters over the last week, including in the 2-minute drill to close out the first half this past Saturday night against the Rams. Rookie Montee Ball has surrendered the biggest hit on quarterback Peyton Manning in the preseason with Ball’s missed protection assignment against the Seahawks. Asked Monday, after he had taken the majority of snaps with the first-team offense in practice, if Manning had said anything to him after the play, Ball said; “No, he didn’t have to. Coach E (Studesville), he did a great job being the coach the he needed to be and he was yelling at me, screaming at me, which was most definitely needed.’’
  • With the first round of cuts having been made and Omar Bolden (ankle) out of practice, Quentin Jammer had the opportunity to try to show the team’s coaches he can be an option at cornerback. Jammer had been signed in the offseason to primarily be a coverage safety who could line up and handle some cornerback duties in situational work from time to time. But Jammer played at cornerback against the Rams and lined up there exclusively in Monday’s practice. It will be a big week for Jammer as he is likely on the bubble to make the 53-man roster, so any multi-tasking skills will help his cause. At one point the secondary for the second-team defense was Jammer and rookie Kayvon Webster at cornerback with David Bruton and undrafted rookie Ross Rasner at the two safety spots. Rasner has caught the team’s eye and certainly is, a quality practice squad candidate if he can’t wedge his way into what will be the most difficult position group for the Broncos to make the cuts.
  • Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, who was held out of Saturday’s game because of an ankle injury he suffered in Seattle, was back with the starters in Monday’s practice. He, like most of the Broncos regulars, is not expected to play in Thursday night’s preseason finale.
  • Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot), safety Quinton Carter (knee) and tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) did not participate in Monday’s practice. Bailey and Dreessen continue to work toward trying to get back for the regular-season opener. Even with Julius Thomas’ emergence in the passing game for the Broncos as a tight end who can line up on the line as well as out wide and in the slot, Dreessen is still the team’s best receiver/blocker combination and the offense will need him, especially out of the three-wide receiver set against the better pass-rush teams.
Peyton Manning Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsFor Denver rookie Montee Ball, protecting Peyton Manning is a higher priority than taking handoffs from him.
Since Terrell Davis powered his way to the 1998 NFL MVP award to go with 2,008 rushing yards in the Broncos' second of back-to-back Super Bowl seasons, since he was the unquestioned stopping point for a handoff in the offense, Denver has, by both necessity and choice, led the mix-and-match movement in the league's backfields.

Since the start of 1999, nine different running backs have led the Broncos in carries for at least one season. Over that 14-year span Denver has not had a running back lead the team in carries in three consecutive seasons.

And a team that once churned out 1,000-yard rushers like Apple products coming off the assembly line has now had just one back -- Willis McGahee in the read-option season of 2011 -- in the past six years finish with 1,000 yards.

What gives?

"It's probably a combination of things," said Broncos coach John Fox. "There are injuries, changes in the offense, changes in your personnel and just the nature of the job. That's a high-impact job in a bigger, faster, stronger league. I'm not sure anybody really sits there these days -- unless you have one of the top, top guys -- and thinks one guy is going to get you through."

And fantasy football owners be damned, the Broncos stand poised to break out the committee to run the ball once again in 2013. But how those carries will be divvied up might surprise some who watch a group that includes Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball, Knowshon Moreno and Jacob Hester.

Because while running the ball is great -- it's in the position's name after all -- for the Broncos' backs to get the ball, they're going to have to be good when they don't have it.

"I've said, whenever a young guys asks me, everybody who gets to the league can run, everybody can catch, but here, the way the game is played right now, you have to block," said Davis, a Broncos Ring of Fame member. "So, learn how to block, do the work and block. That's what I tell them, even if they haven't done it before because they were the main option, because that's what will get you on the field in this league and here, with this team."

Or as Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville said, "Bottom line: The better you do in pass protection, the more run opportunities you’re going to have. That's it. You aren't going to get the ball if we don't take care of the quarterback. They all know that, they are all aware of that. They don't get to run until we see the rest of it."

The Broncos certainly fit the league's profile for a passing team in a pass-first league. They have Peyton Manning at quarterback, they signed Wes Welker in free agency and their favorite formation on offense as the games grew in importance in 2012 was a three-wide receiver look.

They know defenses want to rush Manning in the middle of the formation, a formation they have to open up when they go to three wide receivers. That often puts the running back in the role of last man standing in pass protection, the guy who has to pick the most dangerous rusher who has broken free from the guys up front.

Make the right choice and there's a big play waiting in the offense. Make the wrong one and the quarterback will take a hit that almost always joins the list of biggest hits of the year and always carries the potential to crater a season.

[+] EnlargeRonnie Hillman
AP Photo/Jack DempseyRonnie Hillman is Denver's most explosive runner, but his ability to block will determine how much he'll get on the field.
So, open-field speed is great, vision in traffic a must, but the Broncos' runners know their to-do list has another rather large item on it that has nothing to do with any runs to glory. It's also why the committee appears to have formed again.

"We all know we have to keep Peyton from getting hit," Hillman said. "If you can't make the right choices in there blocking, you're probably not going to get the ball."

To that end, Hillman has put on about 15 pounds from last season and hovers closer to the 195-pound range, far better than the 178 pounds or so he came in at when the Broncos faced the Ravens in the playoffs in January. Hillman, entering his second season, is the most explosive runner the Broncos have, the big-play threat in an offense that wants more big-play runs this time around.

Ball, a rookie, spent plenty of extra time with Manning during offseason workouts in post-practice discussions about the nuances of protection schemes and the fine line between knowing when to stay in and block and when to leave the backfield to be the hot-read option.

Moreno, because of his knee troubles of recent seasons, and Hester have not shown the run skills in workouts the two youngsters have, but they are more proficient in those long-yardage responsibilities. Hester has appeared at both running back and fullback in practices, while Moreno, now up to 220 pounds, has also shown a proficiency in pass protection.

There is also the matter of audibles. Perhaps the biggest of Manning's many gifts at quarterback is his ability to change the play just before the snap to get his guys in the look that is the biggest problem for a defense.

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who faced Manning twice annually in Fisher's long tenure with the Titans, said, "He knows your intentions and he knows what to do, all before he snaps the ball. ... So even when you're right, there's a good chance you're wrong."

But for Manning's audibles to work, everybody else on offense has to be ready to make the changes as well. It's another hurdle for Hillman and Ball in their effort to be at the top of the rotation (when the Broncos released their first "official" depth chart of the preseason Sunday, Hillman was the No. 1 back).

“So, I always keep in my mind that they’re two young guys, but we have to age them, in terms of their knowledge of the offense, rapidly," Studesville said. “The reality of our offense is we do what the quarterback can do, so they have to catch up, they’ve got to get it. We're not going to put people out there who slow the quarterback down. If they don't understand that and don't get it, they won't play."

It's all important because the Broncos know people defend them with Manning as a passer at the top of the list. So, against a vast array of nickel, dime and other specialty defenses designed to stop problems in the air, the Broncos have to find a way to wind the clock, convert first downs, pound it in the end zone from in close and create explosive runs.

And while one back used to be enough for the job, Denver is more than comfortable using several once again in 2013.

"When we get those friendly boxes because of the way people defend Peyton, we have to feel comfortable with whoever we put back there to run it," Studesville said. "And when we get to the season, I think we will. We like this group."

And that's group, as in more than one.
Some Denver minicamp notes:

Veteran cornerback Champ Bailey said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio coming back for a second season is huge for the unit. Last year, Del Rio became Denver's seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons.

“It means a lot,” Bailey told reporters Tuesday. “For a corner, specifically, it doesn’t change a whole lot for me personally. But I can see the difference in the guys around me. That makes a huge difference in what we can do up front and on the back end with the safeties.”

Bailey said this is the deepest group of cornerbacks he’s seen in his 10 season in Denver.

Safety David Bruton, meanwhile, has been getting some work with the first unit. He has been largely a special-teamer, but might see more time with the base defense.

Veteran running back Willis McGahee is participating in the team’s mandatory minicamp after staying away from the voluntary portion of the offseason for what he described as family reasons. McGahee will likely have a lesser role in the offense this season after the Broncos drafted Montee Ball in the second round and with second-year player Ronnie Hillman set to see more playing time.

Denver running-backs coach Eric Studesville is working at the minicamp, a week after his parents were killed in a motorcycle accident.

Report: Denver keeps Studesville

January, 17, 2011
The Broncos have rewarded Eric Studesville for undertaking a difficult situation at the end of the 2010 season by bringing him back for the 2011 season.

The Denver Post is reporting that Studesville will be the running backs coach on John Fox’s staff. The two were assistants together with the New York Giants years ago. Studesville was the running backs coach under Josh McDaniels before McDaniels was fired in December with four games remaining in the season. Studesville became Denver’s interim coach and the Broncos had a 1-3 record under him.

Studesville impressed Denver’s brass with the way he handled the team after McDaniels was fired. Studesville was one of the five candidates interviewed for the head-coaching job before Fox was hired Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Broncos are looking at former Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott as a potential candidate for the same job. In a radio interview, Fox further explains what he’s looking for in his coaching staff among other topics.
The Denver Broncos have lost another candidate for their head-coaching job.

It is being reported that New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has withdrawn himself from consideration. Williams interested Denver partly because he has head-coaching experience from his time in Buffalo. Williams was scheduled to interview in Denver on Wednesday.

He is the third candidate Denver has pursued that has declined to talk to the team. Former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh ended up going to San Francisco and Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has postponed his interview until after the Falcons’ season is over. He’ll likely interview with the Broncos if they don’t already have a new coach by that time. The Broncos were not upset with Mularkey’s decision, but they will not purposely wait for him, either.

While Harbaugh would have been a slam-dunk hire, Mularkey and Williams were not considered sure things in Denver.

Denver is talking to Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison (a former Denver player and coach who interviewed for the job two years ago) and Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter on Tuesday. Former Carolina head coach John Fox will interview on Wednesday.

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Denver interim coach Eric Studesville have already interviewed. The team could add to the list;it hopes to hire a new coach by next week after a round of second interviews for the finalists.

After disposed coach Josh McDaniels alienated many fans, the team -- led by new vice president of football operations John Elway -- is doing its best to regain the trust of the fan base. Tuesday, Elway asked fans what they’d ask candidates, via Twitter. Also, the team is showing clips of the interview process on its website. No other team has ever done that.

AFC West coaching roundup

January, 10, 2011
There is heavy talk that San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is going to be named the head coach in Carolina.

The deal is not done, but Rivera is expected to meet with Carolina ownership Tuesday in a second interview, and if all goes well, a deal could get done soon. Rivera deserves this chance. He has had several interviews for head-coaching jobs in recent years and he did a great job in San Diego. The Chargers had the No.1 ranked defense in the NFL this season.

There is talk around the NFL that San Francisco defensive coordinator Greg Manusky could replace Rivera in San Diego. Chargers head coach Norv Turner and Manusky have a history together.

If Rivera gets the Carolina job, there will be key openings in every AFC West city. Denver and Oakland will have new head coaches and Kansas City is looking for a new offensive coordinator, where Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is considered an option.

Denver’s head-coaching search continues to take shape. New Denver football leader John Elway announced New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will interview Wednesday. Former Carolina coach John Fox will interview Wednesday instead of Monday because of travel issues. Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will be interviewed Tuesday. Giants’ defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Denver interim coach Eric Studesville were interviewed on Sunday.

Denver could add to its list of six and could eventually talk to Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey after the Falcons’ season is over if the Broncos’ search, which could be 7-10 days from conclusion, is not concluded. Mularkey postponed his interview last week.

The Raiders’ search has been typically quiet. Still, Oakland offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is expected to be promoted, although names such as former Oakland offensive coordinator Marc Trestman continue to emerge. Still, I’d be surprised if Jackson doesn’t get the job.
With the Jim Harbaugh pipedream all but over for the Denver Broncos, new Denver football czar John Elway is streamlining his wish list.

If Denver fans are looking for a household name or seat filler, they may want to temper your hopes. While the list can change at any time, the current group of the Broncos’ candidates is not filled with bright-light names.

Elway said Friday the Broncos are likely out of the Harbaugh talks. Elway did say he is seeking permission to talk to former Denver assistant and current Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and he may call former Giants coach Jim Fassel. Elway has ties to both men.

Other people Denver is going to interview are Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Denver interim coach Eric Studesville. New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is expected to be interviewed when the Saints’ season is complete. Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey (considered by many as a top Denver choice) has postponed his interview until after the Falcons’ season ends.

Once you get past Mularkey and perhaps Fewell, this isn’t an overly exciting list. It’s not to say these aren’t good coaches, but they are far from Harbaugh when it comes to name recognition.

In the end, I’m not surprised Harbaugh probably isn't going to end up in Denver. He was too costly for the Broncos’ blood. Plus, I’m not sure if it was a great fit. It seems to me that Harbaugh is the type who will want to make his own decisions. After moving away from Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels in the past two years, the Broncos want their coach to just coach and not make personnel decisions.

Any of the above names would surely be fine with that arrangement.

I wouldn’t be surprised if other names pop up. They could include former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, Miami defensive coordinator and former Denver defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Philadelphia assistant Marty Mornhinweg, San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

Billick could be an interesting candidate. He likely wouldn’t be overly expensive and he has had a lot of NFL success.
Wisely, the Denver Broncos are planning to talk to some defensive coaches in their search to find Josh McDaniels' replacement.

New Denver leader John Elway told the Denver Post he will ask permission to talk to Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams has head-coaching experience. Fewell is also garnering interest from San Francisco, Cleveland and Carolina.

Denver will also talk to Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and Denver interim coach Eric Studesville. There has been talk that Mularkey could be the leading candidate because of his ability to work with a young quarterback such as Tim Tebow.

But Denver does have some major shoring up to do on defense. It allowed a league-high 471 points this season. Talking to coaches like Fewell and Williams is a sign Denver is prepared to do its due diligence in this process.

Also, Elway told the Denver Post he didn’t get the chance to talk to Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh about the job while Elway served as an honorary Stanford captain in the team’s Orange Bowl win Monday. Still, if Elway wants to talk to Harbaugh, I’m sure he’ll get the opportunity.
The Denver Post is reporting that interim Denver coach Eric Studesville will be interviewed for the permanent job.

This is not a surprise and it’s the right thing for Denver to do. I still think Studesville is a long-shot candidate. But he deserves a chance.

Studesville has done an admirable job in keeping the Broncos on track since being promoted from running backs coach when coach Josh McDaniels was fired suddenly with four weeks remaining. The Broncos were blown out in their first two games under Studesville, but came back to beat Houston last week.

Studesville is enthusiastic and has kept the team focused. For a guy who has never had a role higher than a position coach, this experience as an interim coach and the opportunity to interview for a head-coaching job will be invaluable. Statesville is African-American. His interview will satisfy the NFL’s Rooney rule, which mandates every team must interview at least one minority candidate.

UPDATE: At his news briefing Friday, Studesville confirmed he is expected to get an interview.