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Davis: Ball must block to start for Broncos

The SportsXchange

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball is going to be more than a bit player in his rookie season, he must learn to block.

And if nearly two weeks of training camp and a month of organized team activities and minicamp did not made him aware of this fact, then a visit from Terrell Davis did.

Davis visited Broncos training camp last weekend as part of his duties for the NFL Network. But he had an ulterior motive in the course of his media duties: he wanted to meet Ball, who was giddy when the Broncos drafted him in the second round last April because he grew up idolizing the team and Davis, the club's all-time leading rusher who retired a decade ago after multiple knee injuries.

Ball first embraced the Broncos because they were his father's favorite team, but he latched on to Davis because he admired his tenacity and his willingness to do more than just run the football. Davis was effective in pass protection for John Elway during his prime years prior to tearing multiple knee ligaments in 1999, and his lesson to Ball was simple: keep the quarterback upright, or you're not going to see the field.

"That was really the reason why I got in (to games)," Davis said. "Most running backs can run, most running backs can catch, but blocking is the key. If you can block, you will be in the game. You will be that guy who becomes that complete back.

"(Ball) seems to have every asset known to man, he seems to do everything pretty good. Now it's just a matter of him staying consistent with it, blocking, knowing how to catch, picking up the defense and really getting comfortable with the offense."

Ball's training camp has been an up-and-down affair to this point. At times, he has shown an effective burst, reading his blocks properly and quickly darting upfield. At others, he's appeared indecisive and has settled for simply protecting the football and absorbing a short loss or no gain. His blocking has been equally inconsistent to this point.

"I'm trying to get perfect on that," said Ball, who is still learning how to get proper leverage in his pass protection.

One Broncos practice last week illustrated his struggles in learning how to keep the quarterback upright. After being beaten during one-on-one drills, he found himself picking up a blitz during a subsequent team period.

"I made the right read, saw the right blitzer," Ball said. "But I kind of lunged at him and missed him."

A year from now, that might not be the case. That's where Ronnie Hillman sits, and his experience in pass protection has helped establish his place at the top of the running back depth chart, with Ball listed No. 2.

As with Ball, Hillman said that it was learning how to read a blitzing defense, rather than technique, that held him back as a rookie.

"It wasn't the blocking part. It was just more of seeing what was going on," Hillman said. "Now I'm seeing a lot more and it's just being able to stand them up and being able to stall them."

Hillman learned as a rookie that if you don't block, you won't play often. Ball knows that, but if he learns like his childhood hero, he won't be on the second team for long.

"I saw No. 30 (Davis), and I'm like, 'Man, I want to be just like him,' " Ball said.

The Broncos hope for nothing less.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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