Q: I'm wondering what the Broncos' plans are for Ronnie Hillman in his second season and if you think he can beat out Willis McGahee for the starting job? Or, do the Broncos want (Montee) Ball to be the starter?

A: William, the Broncos used the 67th pick (third round) of the 2012 draft on Hillman because they believe he can be an impact player in both the run game and as a receiver in their offense.

He did flash those capabilities at times as a rookie last season, including an 86-yard rushing day against the Saints at 6.1 yards per carry.

But Hillman's hurdles were often the traditional ones for a rookie running back in the league — namely maintaining his weight and pass protection.

Hillman said Wednesday that he dropped to about 180 pounds last season. But several people with the Broncos say the real figure was closer to 175 pounds. Whether it was workload, practice schedule or simply living on his own in his first year on a new job, Hillman had weighed 200 pounds at the scouting combine in February 2012 as well as when he arrived to the team.

So, to drop into the 170s is something the Broncos say they want to monitor to prevent from happening again. At the moment Hillman said he's hoping to play the upcoming season at 195 pounds, roughly his current weight as the team goes through its organized team activities (OTAs).

"And that happens with a young guy, his first year in the league, his weight decreases," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. "That pounding that you're going to take running between the tackles — he needs to keep that size."

With McGahee having been a no-show so far for the Broncos OTAs, Hillman and Ball certainly have the opportunity to show what they can do. Hillman ran with the starters this past week.

And in terms of how he fits in the Broncos offense moving forward, he'll have to show he can be physical enough to run inside on early downs to be the No. 1 guy, and he's shown that potential as a college runner. Then, to play on third down, he's going to have to consistently make the correct choices in pass protection, because the running back often has the last opportunity to pick up the blitzing defender who gets free.

Incorrect choices in pass protection by the running backs are usually sacks. And they are usually the kind of sacks that are finished with big hits on the quarterback. So, it is one of the most important items on a running back's to-do list if he is going to play in those situations.

It was an area Hillman, like most backs who were their teams' primary runner in college, struggled with in his first NFL season. And when the Broncos didn't play him on third down or other long-yardage situations, that was usually the reason why.

Hillman said this week that the coaches have, you could say, made it a point of emphasis.

"It's when they stop trying to talk to you about it, that's when you have to worry about it," Hillman said. "I appreciate them for doing it."