DENVER — On Sunday afternoon, Lance Ball joined a long line of Denver Broncos running backs with a simple gesture. No one's comparing him to two-time Super Bowl-winner Terrell Davis or even current starter Willis McGahee, but there was Ball planting his feet in the grass and doing the Mile High Salute.
It was a big moment for the 26-year-old: his first career rushing touchdown. It came after three years spent bouncing around NFL practice squads, so just being in a substantial role with the Broncos is an accomplishment for Ball, whose professional expectations were never this high when he was playing at Maryland.
Ball might have surprised a majority of Terps fans and others by solidifying a spot on Denver's roster, but this hasn't come as a shock to him.
"I feel I'm a harder worker. If you keep pushing and keep pulling, good things are going to happen," he said Sunday. "I just stuck with it and believed in myself and believed I could come in and contribute."
Ball had success at Maryland from 2005 to 2007, most effectively when paired in the backfield with Keon Lattimore. His north-south running style mixed with an ability to catch the ball effectively made him a weapon at the college level, but he still went undrafted in 2008.
Ball spent time on the St. Louis Rams' and Indianapolis Colts' practice squads before making his pro debut in the Colts' final regular-season game that year. He spent 2009 on the Tennessee Titans' practice squad but became a contributor for the Broncos last season. This year has been his chance to get regular carries in an option offense that hurts defenses with misdirections.
Sunday featured Ball fumbling at a very inopportune time, but his 32-yard touchdown run and 105 total yards showed that he can carve out a spot in Denver's offense and help Tim Tebow and Co. stay balanced.
When McGahee is out — as he was for part of Sunday's game — Tebow credited Ball for stepping in and doing a great job. He has 366 rushing yards and 143 receiving yards this year.
"I feel like I'm a major part of this offense, and when my number's called I just got to play a little bit better," Ball said.
Ball was kicking himself for the fumble, which was more the result of a heads-up play by New England Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace. But just as he got here with work, Ball will spend upcoming days shoring up his game.
"I, myself, should've held onto it. But things happen," he said. "We had a bump in the road. I've just got to shake it off and just keep playing."
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