There was a ball tucked inside Ronnie Hillman's arm while another Ball took his place with the first-string offense.

Hillman had held off Montee Ball as the Broncos' starting tailback through the organized team activities in May the minicamp session in June every day of training camp in July and August and the first three games of the preseason. But on the first day Broncos starters essentially started preparing for the season opener Sept. 5 against Baltimore Hillman gave way to the rookie Ball.

Naturally Broncos coach John Fox told the media not to draw conclusions from the switch. It's only practice. No big whip.

Sorry Coach but across the football landscape millions of people are holding their fantasy league draft this week at a watering hole near you. To them Ball practicing with the first team is akin to a treasure hunter finding an X-marked map in an abandoned crawl space.

"Look Ronnie Hillman is going to play a lot of football. You can put that in the bank" Fox said after practice Monday. "There's no formula where that's not going to happen."

Indeed Ball on his second rep as the Broncos' starting tailback Monday whiffed on Shaun Phillips who was rushing in from left end as Peyton Manning dropped back to pass. Lance Ball took the third rep as Montee Ball was called over to running backs coach Eric Studesville for a little chat.

It wasn't the first time Montee Ball whiffed on a block. There was the preseason game at Seattle two weeks ago when Ball missed a blitz pick up and Manning got drilled. Even with Manning at quarterback a missed blocking assignment isn't quite as devastating as say fumbling the ball away in back-to-back games and having both returned for touchdowns.

But closer than fans might think.

"It's the worst feeling as a rookie seeing a future Hall of Famer get hit like that pretty hard" Ball said. "That's not a good thing at all and I most definitely got chewed out about it and I knew I couldn't say a word."