ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Montee Ball is confident his current comeback will turn out just like the last one.
As a sophomore at Wisconsin in 2010, Ball leapfrogged John Clay and James White on an October afternoon at Iowa and scored the winning TD in the closing minutes of a 31-30 win.
It came just one week after he'd sat out a big win over top-ranked Ohio State, but he'd never back up anyone again in college, finishing with an NCAA-record 83 touchdowns.
The Broncos' third-year running back predicts - not smugly but almost sheepishly - that he'll surpass Hillman and unseat Anderson, whose spectacular second half of 2014 earned him a Pro Bowl berth and the Broncos' starting tailback job.
"C.J. deserves the No. 1 spot right now. I'm most definitely going to try to work to get it back. And I believe that I will," Ball told The Associated Press during a break at minicamp this week. "I like coming in and being the underdog, just keeping my head down, my mouth shut and just working."
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The clear-cut starter a year ago at this time after rushing for a 4.7-yard average his rookie year, Ball never regained his explosiveness or his starting job after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in August.
Ball blames the three-week layoff for weakening his core, which he believes in turn led to the torn right groin that landed him on injured reserve, limiting him to a paltry 172 yards on 55 carries for a 3.1-yard average and a single TD in 2014.
"Every player should be saying, if they're second or third on the depth chart: `I'm better than that player. I'm better than him,'" Ball said. "Because I believe that I am. But there's no reason for me to be chanting that and yelling that. I'm just going to keep my mouth shut and work and work and work."
Ball was glad to put last season behind him.
"Last year was just all bad, starting with the appendectomy," said Ball, who has spent the last three months working on his flexibility with a personal trainer and also a Pilates instructor.
Looking back, Ball said he rushed back too soon.
A couple of weeks after his operation, Ball was running, even sprinting and feeling so good and sleeping so well that he told the team's medical, training and strength and conditioning staff he was ready to return to action.
But he soon felt a strange sensation in his right groin.
"I went back out there and it was just all downhill from there because I believe by having a weak core from having the surgery and not being able to work out my core for a good three weeks everything just lost its balance and my groin went out," Ball said. "I'm not blaming anyone because I looked them in the face and said, `I feel great. I feel 100 percent.'"
Ball said the ache announced itself just a couple of weeks after he returned to the field.
"I was like, what the heck is that?" Ball recounted. "I just kept stretching it and thinking it'll be good. Take some ibuprofen, it'll be good. I talked to C.J. and was like, `Man, what's wrong with my leg?'"
His explosiveness wasn't there. And he said he couldn't get it stretched out and constantly felt like something needed to pop.
That's basically what happened when he stepped on another player's foot and accidentally did the splits while coming out of the backfield against Arizona on Oct. 5.
After a six-week layoff, he returned to play in his hometown of St. Louis and aggravated the injury on a simple move, ending his season.
"It was a freak accident year," Ball said. "That's what I call it."
Ball said he began feeling better in February, and the hiring of new coach Gary Kubiak sure helped his endorphins kick in.
"It's a way more balanced offense and he has a huge emphasis on the run game. As a running back you've got to love that," Ball said. "So, I do believe I'm the perfect fit for this system."
Ball said he's back to his pre-injury form and is sure he'll feel even better once he finds a local Pilates instructor to help keep his body pliable and his frame flexible so he can avoid another season like the one he endured last year.
"I started off hurt last year and I was hoping it would go away and it didn't," Ball said. "But I know what I'm capable of doing when I'm fully healthy."
- By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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