Hillis intends to carry his share of the load in Broncos' crowded backfield

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Peyton Hillis understands why the Denver Broncos brought in a bushel of tailbacks this winter.

The Broncos' backfield was hit by an injury epidemic last season, with seven tailbacks ending up on injured reserve, including Hillis with a torn hamstring.

One of new coach Josh McDaniels' priorities in free agency was tailback, and he signed three of them. Still, Hillis is counting on carrying the ball plenty next season.

Broncos' tailback surplus

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Peyton Hillis
Career Statistics
Experience: 1 season

Carries: 68

Yards: 343

Touchdowns: 5

Correll Buckhalter
Career Statistics
Experience: 8 seasons

Carries: 476

Yards: 2,155

Touchdowns: 18

J.J. Arrington
Career Statistics
Experience: 4 seasons

Carries: 183

Yards: 654

Touchdowns: 3

LaMont Jordan
Career Statistics
Experience: 8 seasons

Carries: 872

Yards: 3,648

Touchdowns: 28

Selvin Young
Career Statistics
Experience: 2 seasons

Carries: 201

Yards: 1,032

Touchdowns: 2

Ryan Torain
Career Statistics
Experience: 2 games

Carries: 15

Yards: 69

Touchdowns: 1

Hillis was an integral part of the Broncos' backfield last season, bringing a toughness to the position that was sorely missed after he got hurt and Denver stumbled down the stretch to miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

Hillis, who is almost fully recovered, made a good impression on the new coaching staff at this weekend's voluntary minicamp.

"He's a versatile player, so we're going to try to use him in different roles," McDaniels said. "He's going to do a lot of things."

Hillis is vying for snaps with newly signed free agents Correll Buckhalter, J.J. Arrington and LaMont Jordan, along with holdovers Selvin Young and Ryan Torain, both of whom are still recovering from injuries from last year.

"Everybody's going to get a legitimate shot," Hillis said Saturday. "It's just going to depend on how I respond to this offense, how fast I learn it."

That's where Jordan considers himself ahead of the others. He played with the New England Patriots last season, when McDaniels was the offensive coordinator.

"As far as knowing Josh's personality and knowing what's going to be expected of us, I have a leg up, yes," Jordan said. "I'm a true believer that if I'm at my best, then I'm one of the best backs in the league. We all think we can be dominant running backs in the NFL."

The Broncos had a revolving door at tailback last season. That's why Hillis had a feeling the Broncos would usher in a bevy of backs during the offseason.

"When you put the injured tag on somebody, it's kind of hard not to get some guys in reserve," Hillis said. "We've got a lot of good veterans, guys that have played the game. I think they're going to do good things here."

Hillis had a remarkable rookie campaign, leading the Broncos with 343 rushing yards in his short stint before being hurt. He was promoted to tailback out of necessity and flourished, becoming the first Denver player since Floyd Little in 1968 to record both a 100-yard rushing game and a 100-yard receiving game in the same season.

Still, if Hillis is asked to switch to fullback again, that's fine with him. He's accustomed to playing second fiddle, having served as the lead blocker for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at the University of Arkansas.

"I've always said of myself I can do mostly anything if I put my mind to it," Hillis said. "It's a new offense, new scheme, new coach, new staff. So, I guess I'm going to play where they put me -- and be happy."

Hillis brings a unique skills set to the field -- reliable hands, trustworthy blocking and tenacity. That's why Hillis' torn hamstring last season might have triggered a domino effect of destruction that ultimately cost the Broncos a playoff spot, coach and franchise quarterback.

A weighty burden? Not for the ever-humble Hillis, who has a Southern twang, a hankering for Hank Williams tunes and a friendly demeanor.

What Hillis can't control he lets roll right off him.

"It could be a lot of different things or situations there that made us not go to the playoffs," Hillis said.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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