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Hilliard is Dolphins’ Backup Running Back

By Beacon Staff

Brock Osweiler got his chance last week. Now it’s Lex Hilliard’s turn.

On Nov. 14, Osweiler, who graduated from Flathead High School last year, became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Arizona State University since Jake Plummer in 1993. Osweiler was 5 of 10 for 14 yards before leaving with a shoulder injury in the second quarter. He is expected to be healthy enough to play this weekend, but will not start again.

Hilliard, another Flathead graduate, has now moved into the No. 2 running back position behind Ricky Williams on the Miami Dolphins’ depth chart. Ronnie Brown, the starting running back, is out for the season with a foot injury. Hilliard has seen time in games this year on special teams, but has yet to take an NFL snap. As the backup running back, that should change fairly soon.

The stories of Osweiler and Hilliard are similar, with a combination of fortunate circumstances, talent and hard work catapulting both to the top of their respective depth charts.

After being drafted by the Dolphins out of the University of Montana, Hilliard spent last season on the practice squad and never made the active roster. This year, after a productive preseason in which he was the team’s top rusher, Hilliard crept onto the roster when the Dolphins took the unusual move of naming four running backs to their 53-man roster. With season-ending injuries to third-string back Patrick Cobbs and now Brown, Williams is the main man, followed by Hilliard. How well Hilliard does will determine how actively the Dolphins seek another running back to fill out their roster.

The Palm Beach Post ran this headline on its Web site – Miami Dolphins talking points: Lex Hilliard now a factor, not a feel-good story. True, yet I would argue that now it’s really a feel-good story.

Osweiler graduated from Flathead early and headed down to Tempe last winter to get a head start on spring ball. When spring rolled around, he was sixth on the depth chart. A couple of quarterbacks left the team, including John Elway’s son Jack, and then injuries hit the remaining quarterbacks ahead of Osweiler. Along the way, Osweiler turned into the obvious fan favorite, with the crowd often cheering for him to play during games. He got some snaps in a backup role before being named starter for last week’s Oregon game.

News stories have discussed the work ethic and talent of both Osweiler and Hilliard, yet it is also clear that being from Montana has fueled interest among media and fans as well. We’ll see how the rest of their seasons pan out, but for the moment let’s enjoy the ride and cheer for two Kalispell boys’ making it to the big time.