Denver Broncos' runners could be key in Super Bowl 50

By Eric Gilmore, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 2, 2016 at 8:05 PM
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Santa Clara, CALIF. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will be in the spotlight Sunday at Super Bowl 50, but the Broncos' hopes could rest with two under-the-radar running backs who shared the workload this season.

Neither Ronnie Hillman nor C.J. Anderson cracked 1,000 yards rushing this season, but they combined to run for 1,583 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hillman rushed for a team-high 863 yards and seven TDs on 207 carries. Anderson carried 152 times for 720 yards and five scores.

The more yards Hillman and Anderson can gain on the ground, the better chance Manning will have to make plays in the passing game.

"Super important," Anderson said Tuesday of the Broncos' running game. "We just know that me and Ronnie, we have to be patient and pick our spots. When we get a chance to executive and make big plays, we have to take advantage of that.

"Sometimes we'll leave some runs out there throughout the season, but Sunday's not one of those times. If we got a chance to make a big play and change the game, that's something we got to do."

Hillman said it won't be easy running the ball against Carolina's rugged front seven.

They're a great front seven," Hillman said. "They hustle. You can't relax with them. You've got to be able to stay on your p's and q's and dot your i's with those guys. They have Pro Bowl players and great players at every level, so you definitely have to respect that."

Anderson, who grew up in the Bay Area and went to Cal, had two 100-yard rushing games during the regular season, and he gained 144 yards on 31 carries during playoff wins against Pittsburgh and New England. Hillman topped 100 yards four times in the regular season and has 54 rushing yards on 27 postseason carries.

Hillman said whoever has the "hot hand" will get most of the carries Sunday.

"When you've got two backs that are productive, it definitely helps," Hillman said. "C.J. does a great job. Dudes always be bouncing off of him. It's definitely a complementary backfield."

--Broncos defensive end Derek Wolf, who began the season with a suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, is finishing with a flurry on the field with play that is very enhanced.

Wolfe, who served a four-game suspension to open the season, has contributed at least a half a sack in all but one game since week 11, showing why the Broncos gave him a four-year contract worth $36.7 million during the team's off week, courtesy of a first-round bye.

"You know it started off rough with the suspension and everything, but I am happy with the way it turned it," Wolf said Tuesday at the team's Super Bowl press conference. "We have one more game to win, that is all I am really concerned with."

He is especially proud that the Broncos have the No. 1 defense in the league.

"I think the whole team takes pride; it is not just the offense, or the defense, I mean. I think we all as a team take pride in being able to (not allow) points and give our offense chances."

Wolf acknowledges that any defense that lists DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller has a pretty good head start.

"Yeah, DeMarcus, there can't be enough said about him," Wolf said. "He is a great leader, tries to help young players get better. Any time you ever need anything he would help you. That is the kind of guy you want to help get a ring on his finger.

"Von ... is goofy and goofs around, jokes around, but when it is time for business he locks it in. He brings a different kind of energy, you know. You know his leadership is getting better and better every year. So I love playing with a guy like that."

Wolf points to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton as the biggest challenge for him in this game.

"I think we just stay after him. You got to wrap him up. He is a big guy, so you got to get your hands on him and hold on."

Wolf hopes to stop Newton from dancing, which he thinks is fine as long as it isn't against the Broncos.

"Hey, when you are doing well, you are going to dance. So everybody has to create their own brand, their own identity and be their self. So, go ahead, we are just going to do our best to make sure he isn't doing it on Sunday."

-- Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson was asked the difference between rushing New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Carolina's big, mobile Cam Newton

"You have to take a different approach," he said, understating the situation. "Brady is not going to go too far too fast, but Cam can kind of take off and do things with his legs -- and you know he will as soon as he gets a chance.

"You definitely have got to make sure that if we're rushing just four, we've got to be able to keep them in front of us and make sure that nobody is rushing behind the passer and that we just open up lanes for them. It's definitely hard."

Jackson credits defensive coordinator Wade Phillips for allowing the players to be themselves.

"He lets us be our personality, he lets us be players, great players on the field," Jackson said. "He puts us in the right places to be and that's one of those things as a player you can ask for, so that's what I like him.

"I'm surprised about how energetic he is. When I first met him, it was one of those things like, 68, that's old, so it was one of those things. But he definitely keeps up with us. He definitely knows his music now and definitely knows what's going on and it's definitely cool to see him. I think we help keep him young, too, and help him just keep going, so it's definitely a great friendship."

--Carolina head coach Ron Rivera interviewed with the St. Louis Rams for their top coaching position in 2006. Rivera spent the previous three seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears -- a team he helped to win Super Bowl XX over the New England Patriots (46-10) in 1985 as a linebacker for the famed "Monsters of the Midway" defense.

The job eventually went to Scott Linehan, who had been offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach for Minnesota and Miami. Rivera would have inherited a team in major transition. As it turned out, Linehan was fired four games into the 2008 season after an 11-25 coaching record.

"Well, back then, I thought I was ready. In retrospect, when you look back at it, I've grown a lot on this job, so I might not have been ready looking at it now, from this perspective." Rivera said during a media session leading up to his team's first Super Bowl appearance since 2003 when they lost 32-29 to the New England Patriots.

"At the end of the day, they (St. Louis) decided to go with an offensive coach. It was their decision because at the time they felt they wanted to emulate what they had with the greatest show on turf. In hindsight, I might not have been ready for that."

Considering that many believed Rivera would be fired by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson after a 1-3 start in 2013, Rivera is happy he was allowed to prove himself as a leader of this team.

"All I can say is that I'm very fortunate to have an owner with a lot of patience," Rivera said.

--Frank Cooney and Rick Tracewell contributed to this report.

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