Lance Ball spent his rookie season bouncing from team to team. Two years later, the 25-year old running back bounces off defenders.
Ball began his NFL odyssey as a college free agent with the Rams in 2008 and moved on to the Colts’ practice squad in the same season. Indianapolis waived him after training camp in 2009, and he spent three weeks on Tennessee’s practice squad before he joined the Broncos practice squad at the end of the season.
The University of Maryland product finally got his shot as a member of Denver’s active roster for the 2010 season opener at Jacksonville, where he made one special-teams tackle.
“I think that’s kind of been the spotlight, the mark of my career so far,” Ball said. “Being up and down on practice squads and inactive, you’ve just got to seize the opportunity to keep you alive in this league and keep you on the team.”
The same story defined the first half of the year for Ball. In Week 2 — before he could tally a regular-season carry — the team decided to put him back on the practice squad.
About two months later, the coaching staff gave Ball another chance. He rejoined the active roster just in time to notch two carries for 9 yards in the Broncos’ 49-29 win against the Chiefs. Since then, he’s been the primary substitute for Knowshon Moreno.
“We made a decision to go with Lance and just kind of see if it gave us anything different,” Head Coach Josh McDaniels said. “I think Lance has just done a nice job with his opportunities.”
Against St. Louis last week, Ball handled four carries for 31 yards. He rumbled 17 yards on his first touch of the game to set up Moreno for a 4-yard touchdown on the very next play.
When Ball’s number gets called, the offense usually advances at least halfway to the first-down marker. He’s averaging 5.9 yards per carry this season.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Stanley Daniels said. “Every time he gets the ball, he always gets positive yards. He almost scored last game, on that zone play to the left. That’s a prime example of someone taking advantage of the opportunity when he gets it, and he deserves it.”
Daniels can relate to Ball’s early career path. The guard has spent a fair share of his own time on practice squads, and he said he formed a bond with Ball when both players were fighting for roster spots in the preseason.
The lineman and running back both made the opening-day active roster thanks in large part to their work together in the first four exhibition games, when Ball ran for 119 yards on 23 carries.
“Obviously, me and Lance have a good connection,” Daniels said. “In the preseason, we had a lot of good combo plays where I’d pull for a power play and he’d bust, or I’d pull to the left and he’d break one. We kind of fed off of each other being in the position that we were in trying to make the team.”
For Daniels, obstacles on the road to an NFL roster spot make it that much sweeter when you arrive.
“It kind of makes you cherish those opportunities,” he said.” You can see in Lance’s play that he cherishes the opportunity.”
BUFF ALUMS SOUND OFF
Amid reports that Jon Embree, the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins and former CU assistant coach, will take over as the new head coach for the Colorado football team, CU alumni Daniel Graham and Justin Bannan gave the news a thumbs up from the Broncos locker room.
With help from Embree, Graham won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end in his senior year at Colorado.
“I’ve said it before — I give all the credit to Coach Embree for the player that I am today,” Graham said. “He’s going to expect a lot from the players and he’s going to coach hard for the players.”
Bannan said he “couldn’t be happier” about the reported hire.
“Coach Embree recruited me out of high school,” Bannan said. “He was my first coach. I just remember how he recruited me. He was incredible compared to everybody else.”
Four Broncos have been declared out for Sunday. Brian Dawkins (knee), André Goodman (hip), Darcel McBath (quadricep) and Demaryius Thomas (ankle) all did not practice on Friday and won’t make the trip to Kansas City.
For the Chiefs, CB Jackie Bates (knee) is out after missing practice all week. CB Brandon Flowers (hamstring), who is questionable for Sunday, and S Kendrick Lewis (ankle), who is probable, were limited in practice. G Ryan Lilja (foot) and S Jon McGraw (head) both fully participated in practice and are probable for Sunday.
-Gabe Hiatt, DenverBroncos.com
Below are photos from Friday’s practice: