Friday, May 31, 2013

Montee Ball getting special attention from Peyton Manning

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning hands the football off to running back Montee Ball during offseason practices in Englewood, Colo., on Thursday, May 30, 2013.

By Lindsay H. Jones, USA TODAY Sports

May 30, 2013

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Montee Ball isn't being allowed to ease into anything with the Denver Broncos.

Ball, a second-round pick running back from Wisconsin, has spent time after most of the team's voluntary practices working through plays with quarterback Peyton Manning. Even on the team's nine-hole golf outing earlier this week, Ball found himself in Manning's foursome.

"I can tell you Ball (and rookie tackle Vinston Painter) have been studying their playbooks and not playing much golf, which is a good thing," Manning joked Thursday.

But Manning was clear about how much he, and the rest of the Broncos, is depending on Ball to be ready to play right away this season.

"We're just kind of going through plays, going through games, getting him comfortable hearing audibles at the line of scrimmage. Because we are going to count on him in a big way this year," Manning said. "He's a rookie, but coach (John) Fox isn't going to bring him along slowly."

Ball and 2012 third-round pick Ronnie Hillman seem to be the players benefiting most from veteran Willis McGahee's decision to not attend these voluntary practices. McGahee is continuing to recover from knee injury that ended his 2012 season in mid-November and is doing most his training and rehab in his hometown of Miami.

Fellow veteran Knowshon Moreno has also not been cleared to participate in team drills because of the knee injury he suffered in Denver's playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January.

Manning said he has not spoken to McGahee lately, and is instead trying to focus on working with the players who are in Denver. Left tackle Ryan Clady, who has yet to sign his franchise tender, is the only other Broncos player not attending the voluntary workouts.

Several other players are being held out because of injuries but are going through rehab at team headquarters.

McGahee is scheduled to earn $2.5 million in 2013, and counts $3 million toward the team's salary cap. He is under contract through 2014. McGahee's agent has not returned a phone message from USA TODAY Sports.

"The players that aren't here — there are individual and specific situations. Whether there is a business decision being made on Willis' part on his side or on the Broncos' side, that is kind of to be determined. I'll say this: Willis was a great help to me last year," Manning said. "When he got hurt last year, that was a blow to our team. We really kind of replaced him by committee. Knowshon and crew really did a good job of stepping up, but there's no question Willis was a big help to me last year and our team. But, like I said, we'll see how these next few weeks and how it plays out here."

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