50 Years Later, Hillis and Larsen Represent AFL With Pride

Sayre BedingerSenior Writer IJune 6, 2009

In baseball, an elite prospect is called a "five-tool" player, due to his versatility, willingness to play other positions, and ability to do all of those things very well.

With two of their last three picks in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos were able to obtain two such players in fullbacks Peyton Hillis is and Spencer Larsen.

Hillis came from the Arkansas Razorbacks in the seventh round of last year's draft, and was selected with the pick obtained from Tampa Bay in the Jake Plummer trade.

When the season began, Hillis was penciled in as the starting fullback, although Denver did not use their fullback in a traditional way. 

Starting three games at both running back and fullback, Hillis led the Broncos in rushing with 343 rushing yards, 5.0 yards per carry, and tied for the team lead with six total touchdowns(five rushing, one receiving).

While many may not see his numbers as gawdy or even that significant, Hillis was the team's seventh string and essentially last resort running back.

In only his second start as the Broncos' tailback in week 13, Hillis became the first player to rush for over 100 yards against the New York Jets all season long, earning Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Week and FedEx Ground Player of the Week honors.

When the Broncos signed and drafted five new running backs this offseason, Hillis' future appeared to be in some kind of doubt.

Head Coach Josh McDaniels erased that doubt addressing Hillis at the team's offseason activities earlier in the week, by saying that the second year player has lined up as running back, fullback, tight end, and even wide receiver in the new Broncos' offense.

"We're gonna use every skill he has," McDaniels said. "He's kind of like Tony [Scheffler] and Daniel [Graham]:  Whatever they can do well, we're going to do it as much as we can do it with them, and he does a lot of things well."

"He can run the ball out of a single back formation, he can certainly catch the ball out of the backfield, he can block in two back sets, you [the press] saw him split out wide all over the place," McDaniels said.

"He's got great hands and a good feel for the passing game. He's a very tough runner to bring down when you give him the ball," McDaniels said, "He'll do a lot of different things for us. Expect him to play a good role in our offense."

With such high praise coming from a brilliant offensive minded coach, as well as the praise he received from former head coach Mike Shanahan, it is a wonder Hillis fell to the Broncos in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.

Likewise, Denver feels it has a gem of a player as well as a person in fullback Spencer Larsen.

Larsen came to the Broncos in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL draft out of Arizona, and figured to be a special teams "ace" for this team right away.

Little did he know what was to come of his rookie season in the NFL.

For the Broncos in 2008, Larsen started games at both linebacker and fullback, as well as both kick team units, and he even became the first player in Denver Broncos history to start a game at linebacker, fullback, and kickoff team.

Larsen's versatility does not come easy.

"Yeah, you know, just coming in and learning two [systems], I have a lot of information on my plate right now," Larsen said. "As you can imagine, two new systems on offense and defense, I'm just trying to get a grasp on them and learn both of them."

So what is a typical "day at the office" for a guy who plays offense, defense, and special teams?

"Well, I come here and I go to the linebackers meeting, and then I spend some time with the running backs," Larsen said, "[Running Backs] coach [Bobby] Turner has been great, Just helping me out when they can, and they give me just as much information as they think I can handle.

Then, at home with myself I just pick up one book and get as much as I can out of it," Larsen said. "Then I pick up another one and get as much as I can out of it, and go like that, day in and day out."

Outside of the Broncos organization, and possibly some avid fantasy football fans, these two players are relatively unknown, which is unjustified.

When the Broncos celebrate 50 years of football this season, no players will represent the good ole' days better than Hillis and Larsen.

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