ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Whether known as Mon-TAY or Mon-TEE, running back Montee Ball made quite a name for himself during his record-setting career at Wisconsin.
Apparently he’s got some work to do to become a household name in the NFL, though.
The Denver Broncos’ second-round draft pick was a virtual unknown to at least one of his new teammates, veteran tight end Jacob Tamme, who said following the draft, “I really know nothing about him. Look forward to meeting him. He’s from Wisconsin, right?”
An NCAA record 83 touchdowns just didn’t ring a bell with Tamme, who confessed he doesn’t keep up with the college game except for Kentucky, his alma mater.
On a conference call with Executive Vice President John Elway earlier this week, a season ticket holder identified as Mike from Lakewood told the Broncos boss that he loved the selection of “Monty Hall.”
OK, let’s make a deal then.
First off, Ball wants to be called Mon-TAY, not Mon-TEE, as he was known for a while in Madison. And it shouldn’t be long before everyone – from Mike in suburban Lakewood to Jacob at Broncos headquarters – knows plenty about the bruising back who can both carry defenders across the goal line and outrace them around the edge.
At 5-foot-10 and 217 pounds, Ball is the bigger back coach John Fox so desperately needed in Denver’s playoff loss to Baltimore in January when Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno were out with injuries and the Broncos couldn’t pick up the first down to run out the clock.
After the draft, Elway pointed to a picture outside his office of running back Terrell Davis, whom he teamed with to lead Denver to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the 1990s, and flashed that famous toothy grin.
“That’s who he reminds me of,” Elway said. “Terrell Davis.”
For good reason, too – Ball has been a Broncos fan since he was 7 and patterned himself after T.D. while piling up all those TDs.
“When we were watching Montee, the one thing that stood out about his running style is that it’s a lot like Terrell Davis, and so that got us very excited, and we hope that Montee has an even longer career than Terrell had,” Elway said.
The big issue with Ball is the wear and tear he had as the Badgers’ featured back the last two years. He carried a school record 356 times last season to go with 307 carries his junior year. Counting catches, he had 697 touches the last two seasons and 983 for his four-year career in Madison.
He was also heavily used in high school with 995 career carries at Timberland High School in Wentzville, Mo.
That’s a positive, not a problem, Elway insists.
“He’s a guy that is durable,” Elway said. “He carried the ball 600 times the last two years, he had 55 touchdowns the last two years. He’s got great short-area quickness, he has a knack to find the holes, he can run inside between the tackles and he can also run outside. Plus, he’s extremely productive and has also proven to be durable and has not missed any games the last couple of years.
“We think we found a gem in Montee and I have high expectations for him.”
The Broncos felt better about Ball’s durability than that of Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, who was selected by Green Bay three spots after Ball. Many draft analysts had Lacy as the top-rated back in the draft.
“We liked both these backs, we had them very similar on the board,” said Matt Russell, the Broncos’ director of player personnel. “The issue with Eddie Lacy at Alabama was that we were worried about a toe injury that he had, which is probably what caused him to slip.
“We just were worried about Eddie Lacy’s medical (report) and how long he could play, and we felt like we got a career back in Montee Ball.”
Coach John Fox, whose Carolina teams always featured big, one-cut backs like Jonathan Stewart and Stephen Davis who found the lane and didn’t dance, loved watching film of Ball’s 77 TD runs for the Badgers.
“He’s got skins on the wall at a high level of competition in college and when you look at running backs, I don’t look at too many of the gymnastics, as I call them – height, weight, speed, all that stuff – it’s a special skill being able to run the ball,” Fox said.
“Whether it was Emmitt Smith, who ran a 4.7 coming out, you know you just don’t put a lot of stock in those kinds of things other than the production, and he’s been very productive and really on all three downs. He’s not just a first- and second-down power back.”
His junior year, Ball tied Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season record with 39 touchdowns, while leading the country with 1,923 yards rushing. He rushed for 1,830 yards last year and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top back.
No. 1 on Ball’s to-do list, however, is protecting Peyton Manning, and he said he got plenty of practice honing his pass-protection skills blocking for quarterback Russell Wilson his junior year.
He’ll get to practice with Manning for the first time May 20 when the veterans return for a three-day camp.
Growing up a Broncos fan, Ball was wide-eyed when he put on his uniform for the first time before taking the field Friday at the start of Denver’s three-day rookie camp.
“I was like a little kid, as soon as I put the jersey on, the shorts, the cleats, I wanted to take all sorts of pictures and send them to my friends,” Ball said. “But it’s all about business.”
Notes: Ball is wearing No. 38. Davis’ old No. 30, belongs to S David Bruton. Ball’s number in college, 28, belongs to S Quinton Carter. … The Broncos signed two fifth-round draft choices – DE Quanterus Smith and WR Tavarres King – on Friday, one day after signing T Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick. … Air Force grad Ben Garland, who was on the practice squad last season, has moved from defensive tackle to offensive guard. “We’re just trying to give him the best opportunity we can to help him make our football team,” Fox said.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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