- Associated Press - Thursday, January 14, 2016

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - There was a time when Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson didn’t even speak to each other.

Now, they’re fast friends who have given the Denver Broncos a terrific tandem in the backfield heading into the playoffs.

The Broncos are one of two NFL teams with two 700-yard rushers.

Hillman led the team with a career-high 863 yards and seven touchdowns. Anderson ran for 720 yards and five TDs.

Both maneuvered their way through a spate of injuries this season along with the growing pains that came with a new offensive line and Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme.

Doling out tips to each other between series, they hit their stride this month.

Denver’s double dose of trouble for defenses combined for 212 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers in Week 17. That helped the Broncos (12-4) secure the AFC’s No. 1 seed. They’ll host the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-6) Sunday.

“Both of them have played hard all season. Both of them have played through injuries,” Peyton Manning said.

“I do think kind of like a quarterback develops timing with receivers, that both of those backs are running behind five new offensive linemen for the most part. That chemistry between those seven, eight guys has taken time. I think that’s certainly a lot better than it was in Week 1 or 2.”

Denver’s O-line features three first-time starters in Max Garcia, Matt Paradis and Michael Schofield.

“I think that’s been a big difference in those guys seeing the holes based off of how Max is going to block or Matt is going to block, and the linemen feel more comfortable with those guys behind them,” Manning said.

The running backs also feel more comfortable with each other.

“My first year here, me and Ronnie barely talked,” Anderson said. “Part of it was because he’s from L.A. and I’m from the Bay, we didn’t get along. No, to be honest, that’s real. We just, we didn’t see eye to eye.”

Hillman laughed off the geographical differences and said their personalities just clashed.

While Anderson loves to talk, Hillman doesn’t.

Asked for his thoughts last week on which team he’d like to face in the divisional round of the playoffs, Hillman replied, “No. Who has thoughts?”

Anderson, for one, and he loves to share them.

“Yeah, he still talks too damn much,” Hillman said. “You’ve just got to get used to him.”

Hillman said he still can’t get a word in.

“You have to wait until he’s done talking,” Hillman said. “You’ve got to hit him with the ‘Yeah, yeah, OK, yeah’ - and then you get your two cents’ in.”

That took more than two years of working together, too.

“I’m not a talkative person,” Hillman said. “He likes to talk. I don’t.”

What Hillman and Anderson do well is compliment - and complement - each other.

Asked what impresses him most about Hillman, Anderson said: “The growth. Since I’ve been here, the football IQ he has now is just tremendous.

“And then you know him making those runs between the tackles that people said he can’t do, him breaking tackles that people said he can’t do. I mean, Ronnie’s a dog. Ouch. You play with a dog, it just makes you want to go out there and be that same dog.”

Asked what impresses him most about Anderson, Hillman said: “He just bounces off tackles. All of a sudden you just find guys bouncing off of him or you know you see something, there’s nothing there and all of a sudden somebody falls off of him and he runs for 15 or 20.”

Hillman is the speedster, Anderson the power driver.

They both see the game the same thanks to all their sideline conversations they have between series.

Anderson has learned to listen; Hillman has learned to speak up.

“I just think when it comes to football, me saying some things that he can look at on tape and say, ‘Damn, C.J.’s making sense’ probably built confidence on what I’m saying,” Anderson said. “And vice versa: he said some things and I’m going, ‘Man, Ronnie’s making some sense on that. I have never thought of it that way.”

The 24-year-old running backs can still clash at times.

Anderson is seven months older than Hillman, but Hillman entered the NFL a year earlier.

“I’m Big Bro,” insisted Anderson.

“I’m still the Daddy in the room,” retorted Hillman.

Notes: OLB Von Miller returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s workout with food poisoning. “You can’t put regular gas in a Ferrari,” Miller said. He blamed the mozzarella sticks and sugary drink he had at the “Star Wars” movie. “I tried to sneak in there and go see it and it sneaked up on me. The Force struck back.” … Brock Osweiler (knee) sat out practice again Thursday. DeMarcus Ware returned with a knee brace, the same one he wore during his 20-sack season in Dallas.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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