SAN FRANCISCO — Denver’s Ronnie Hillman, Super Bowl 50 MVP?
OK, maybe a stretch.
Then again, when eyeing Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s under whelming passes, maybe not.
Hillman, the former San Diego State star, could have an impact on the Broncos’ quest to upset the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
If Denver can play keep-away from Carolina’s Cam Newton and its powerful offense, it will likely be because of the Broncos’ ground game.
A big part of it is C.J. Anderson. But so is Hillman, and if he heats up, coach Gary Kubiak figures to stay with the hot legs.
“A couple of years ago, we were a passing team,” Hillman said.
That it was. But as the birthday candles accumulated on Manning’s cake, along with him battling various ailments, the Broncos turned to an old-school winning recipe: run the ball and stop the run.
Denver general manager John Elway, who built the NFL’s top defense, knows that template well. The reason he won a pair of Super Bowls for the Broncos in his final two seasons was because of the contributions from Terrell Davis — yet another back with a San Diego connection.
“When you talk about Broncos running backs, he’s the first name you think of: T.D.,” Hillman said.
And the initial coach you ponder in aiding Hillman’s journey to the NFL?
Bet you didn’t guess Snoop Dogg.
Dogg and Hillman both hail from Long Beach. Hillman remembers wrapping up players as a youngster and looking to the famous rapper, and his coach, for approval.
“He had a lot to do with the players and he was a mentor to a lot of players,” Hillman said. “You can definitely tell he loves the kids.”
Hillman took a liking to Dogg and it wasn’t all about his singing.
“He was just giving back to the community,” Hillman said. “He could’ve done plenty of things with his money, but he was just giving back and being supportive of the kids and just trying to get them out of the neighborhood. You notice that stuff.”
What would get Hillman’s attention is if Denver coach Gary Kubiak mimicked Dogg’s sideline demeanor.
“I don’t think Kubiak is dancing after a touchdown,” Hillman said, with a laugh. “You might get a raised hand, but I don’t think you’re going to get the whole dance celebration. That’s probably the major difference — Snoop is a little bit more loose.”
Hillman kept it tight in his fourth season. He set careers highs and led the Broncos in rushing touchdowns (seven), yards (863) and carries (207). It’s that kind of production which aids Manning and is there anything more important for Denver?
“It’ll help Peyton, it will help our offense stay balanced and it helps with the pass game,” Hillman said of his role. “Obviously, you have to run the ball to be balanced.”
It’s far from even money that the Broncos will prevail against the favored Panthers. But if so, Hillman could be Denver’s most precious currency.
“Just go out there and play,” Hillman said of Dogg’s best advice. “It’s stuck with me since I was a kid.”
+ Contact Jay Paris at jparisbcaradio.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jparis_sports.