Broncos’ Hillis is Mr. Versatility
The Denver Post
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado –What, you think Waldo is hard to find? Try tracking down Peyton Hillis at the Broncos’ offseason passing camp.
One minute, he’s split wide, a la Dallas Clark. The next minute, he’s tangling with linebackers as a fullback in two-back formations. And when he finishes that drill, he swings over to tailback in single-back sets.
Oh, and did we mention he’s all the rage on special teams? Or that he believes, in his heart of hearts, that he could play linebacker on Sunday afternoons?
Hillis isn’t the Broncos’ most valuable player, but, with apologies to fullback/linebacker Spencer Larsen, he may well be their most versatile.
So, Peyton, are you a fullback, a tailback or a receiver? Or are you a man for all seasons?
“I don’t really know what I am at this point,” Hillis said. “I think they’re just filling me into different roles to see what I can do. They really haven’t come up to me and said, ‘You’re this or you’re that.’ They’re just kind of putting me in as a piece to the puzzle and seeing what happens.”
Most running backs who spent time in the Broncos’ backfield, circa 2008, have moved on – Selvin Young, Andre Hall, Tatum Bell and Michael Pittman among them. But Hillis remains, and new coach Josh McDaniels likes what he sees. The challenge is to figure out where to use him.
“We’re going to use every skill he has,” McDaniels said. “He does a lot of things well. He can run the ball as a single back or he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can block in two-back sets or he can split out wide. He’s got great hands and he’s a very tough runner to bring down when you give him the ball. So he’ll do a lot of different things for us.
“As we tell our players, they all create their own roles. And he’s certainly done a good job of taking what we’re giving him and doing it very well.”
For all the new faces and endless possibilities in the Broncos’ backfield, this much is certain: McDaniels didn’t use the 12th pick in the draft on Know-shon Moreno so Moreno could be a backup. He figures to emerge as the starting tailback, with Hillis joining him at fullback in two-back sets.
But what if Moreno gets hurt? Given what happened last season, it’s a question that has to be asked.
You remember last season. Hillis began the year as the starting fullback, but, after an injury epidemic in the backfield, he wound up the No. 1 tailback. He led the team with 343 yards rushing, including 129 against the Jets, before a torn hamstring ended his season after 13 games.
By that point, Hillis had become something of a cult hero in Denver. Talk about your unlikely success stories. Who knew a 255-pound fullback drafted in the seventh round would average 5 yards a carry as the Broncos’ starting tailback?
“It was exciting,” Hillis said. “Last year proved that anything can happen in this league. I had a tough career in college. When I came to the NFL, I was just trying to make the team. If it never happens again, at least I proved that I can run with the best, that I can play ball. That’s what means the most to me.”
Hillis has dropped down to a chiseled 245 pounds, but it doesn’t figure to get him a lot of playing time at tailback – not with Moreno and two other newcomers, Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan, on the roster. Doesn’t matter, says Hillis. He has come to enjoy this multitasking thing.
“It’s all about how I can help the team,” he said. “I want people to see I can do a variety of roles, not just tailback. Slot me out, dot me in the I (formation), put me on special teams. . . . Wherever they put me, I’ll be happy. As far as my athletic ability, I can pretty much do it all. You can put me at linebacker and I’ll do a good job.”
Jim Armstrong: 303-954-1269 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.