Montee Ball: 'I'm ready to play'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Willis McGahee remains a no-show at the Denver Broncos' voluntary offseason workouts and Montee Ball is among the young running backs taking advantage of the opportunity, saying Monday his rookie "jitters are gone."

McGahee is pushing 32, he's coming off a serious knee injury, he's set to make $2.5 million this season and the void he left at practice has been filled nicely by second-year speedster Ronnie Hillman and rookie Ball, who scored an NCAA-record 83 touchdowns at Wisconsin.

Hillman has been practicing with the starters and Ball has been getting some one-on-one tutoring from Peyton Manning after every practice to go over audibles, protections and other nuances of the pro game.

"We're going to count on him in a big way this year," Manning said. "He's a rookie but Coach (John) Fox is not going to bring him along slowly."

Ball is getting comfortable with Manning -- and with the idea of playing with the four-time MVP.

"At first I was starstruck, I'm not even going to lie. I grew up watching him. Everyone knows Peyton Manning," Ball said. "… Once you actually dial in, and actually get in your playbook, it actually all makes sense. He's been doing a great job, and it's going to continue, and I'm going to make sure I'm right there to contribute.

"It was funny because today I came in feeling extremely comfortable. Jitters are gone and now I'm ready to play and I feel like I sort of showcased that today in practice. I knew all of my assignments and I didn't look like I was a chicken with his head cut off in the backfield."

If that's the case, Hillman said, "he's better than me, because I had the jitters all year, every time I got in. He adapted a lot faster than me. But, I mean, you get to a level of comfort and familiarity when you're actually getting reps with the [starters]. You're not nervous that Peyton is going to yell at you when you mess up. So it does have a good effect on you."

Fox said the Broncos anticipate McGahee will attend next week's mandatory minicamp and the running back's agents have said he is not staying away from the practices due to his contract but instead to deal with personal matters.

McGahee, who became one of the NFL's most dependable runners despite tearing all the ligaments in his left knee during his last game in college, tore a ligament in his right knee in a game against San Diego last November and missed the rest of the year. Still, he led the team with 731 yards rushing.

McGahee has participated in some offseason conditioning, and while Ball said he's glad to get so many reps so soon, he's looking forward to McGahee taking the field.

"Of course. I'm looking forward to meeting him, I'm looking forward to learning from him. We all know what he's done," the rookie said.

When McGahee got hurt last year, he was replaced by former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno, who ran for 525 yards in six starts but was injured in the playoff loss to Baltimore. He underwent an operation over the winter in which stem cells were taken from the bone marrow in his pelvis and injected into his right knee.

"It was nothing really too serious," said Moreno, who tore his right ACL in 2011. "This time it was just a cleanup pretty much. And it feels pretty good."

Moreno did some pass-protection Monday as he started working his way back into the mix.

Jacob Hester, whose versatility makes him an ideal fit for a team that's revving up the high-octane offense, and Moreno, who practiced in team drills Monday for the first time since injuring his right knee in the playoffs, are among the running backs competing for spots on the team. Fellow veterans Lance Ball and Jeremiah Johnson and rookie C.J. Anderson are also in the mix.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.