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Shared backfield is plan for Broncos’ runners

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — To the chagrin of fantasy-football owners — but perhaps to the best efficiency of the Denver Broncos’ offense – head coach Gary Kubiak plans to split the repetitions between C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman.

Anderson and Hillman each had 12 touches apiece Sunday, with Hillman delivering the 72-yard touchdown run that was the Broncos’ longest in nine years. Anderson’s longest gain was 27 yards, on an opening-series pass from Peyton Manning.

“I know that somebody has to walk out there on play No. 1, but they’re both going to play and will probably play right down the middle,” Kubiak said.

Anderson has averaged 2.7 yards per rush this year while battling a toe injury. Hillman’s average is 4.9 yards, however, it is skewed by the 72-yard run. Without it, he’d be averaging 3.1 yards per carry.

“It’s obvious that Ronnie has earned the right to get more carries and play more than he has in the past,” Kubiak said. “That happened yesterday, so I’ll see that continue to happen.”

–By some measurements, the Broncos’ offensive line had its best game Sunday. Quarterback Peyton Manning absorbed just three hits, and the Broncos ran for 144 yards after gaining no more than 70 in their first three games.

Considering that the performance came with Michael Schofield making his NFL debut at right tackle and Ryan Harris moving to left tackle to replace the injured Ty Sambrailo, the Broncos’ progress was obvious.

“We played hard up front and we ran the ball better,” Kubiak said. “I thought that our effort was good. We can always do things better and we’ll have to do things better, but I thought that we held up with what we went through.”

Schofield gave up a sack, but also delivered a key block on C.J. Anderson’s 13-yard run to set up a Brandon McManus game-winning field goal. The 2014 third-round pick did not even dress for a game last year and struggled during training camp when the Broncos tried to work him at left tackle, but he held up just fine at right tackle, which he played at the University of Michigan.

“For a guy that played his first NFL football game, I thought that he played really well,” Kubiak said. “There are always going to be things that you have to get better at. He got called for a couple of penalties, just some alignment stuff that you have to go through to get better. I liked his effort and I liked the way that he got to the second level.”

–During the four weeks he served a suspension for a PED violation, defensive end Derek Wolfe stayed in shape. He worked out on his own — and during Week 1, with safety T.J. Ward, who was serving a one-game suspension of his own. Wolfe even worked out as he watched his teammates play during the first four weeks.

As it turned out, he needed that work just to get through his first day back, when defensive line coach Bill Kollar put him through an intense workout on the practice field that included a 200-yard sprint.

“I’m like a caged animal right now. I’m ready,” Wolfe said.

But ready for what? His role is up in the air. With the defense playing so well with Vance Walker in on base-package downs and Antonio Smith rotating in for pass-rush situations, Wolfe might not have a starting role waiting for him.

“We have a very competitive environment there right now at that position,” said Kubiak. “It should only make us better.”

Notes: Tackle Michael Schofield held down the fort in his first career start at right tackle. Playing as a result of the shuffle that followed Ty Sambrailo’s shoulder injury, Schofield was beaten for one sack by Brian Robison, but also delivered key blocks on runs during the Broncos’ game-winning drive. … Sambrailo worked out with team trainers Monday as the Broncos try to get him back to good health after he missed Sunday’s game because of a shoulder injury suffered last week. … Safety David Bruton Jr. was evaluated for a possible concussion, but passed the tests and returned. … Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas suffered some neck soreness after a helmet-to-helmet collision, but was feeling better a day later. Thomas led the Broncos in receptions with nine Sunday.


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