ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—C.J. Anderson had a big 2014. The former undrafted rookie free agent out of California started out the season as the Denver Broncos No. 2 running back on the depth chart, only to see guys like Ronnie Hillman and rookie Juwan Thompson get reps ahead of him, when starter Montee Ball went down with a groin injury.
Anderson bided his time and when his opportunity came to see extended action in Week 10 vs. the Oakland Raiders, he took the ball and ran with it—literally. He finished the game with 163 total yards and a touchdown—the first of six games he would accumulate more than 100 yards from scrimmage.
He finished the season with 849 yards rushing, 324 yards receiving and 11 total touchdowns, which earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl in Arizona. Talk about going from zero-to-sixty. Anderson dominated the NFL in the second half of the season and earned the right to go into the 2015 offseason as the Broncos starting running back. However, he knows that nothing is given—everything is earned.
”Nothing is handed to you,” he said today from Dove Valley. “I know that I have to go out and grind every day and work every day, put my hard hat on and bring my lunch pail. Our running back room is very talented as you guys got to see last year. It doesn’t matter who is behind me, we’re going to do what the team thinks is best. If that’s me, than that’s great. If that’s somebody else, then I’ll do whatever the team needs from me in my role.”
Anderson is a team-first guy. And this year, his team is going through a transition, as they acclimate to their new Head Coach Gary Kubiak and his zone running system. However, Anderson is ready to work and bury his nose in the playbook.
“Personally to me, it’s no different at all,” he said. “You’ve got to come in and work every day. It’s just something that you’ve got to do. I guess the biggest thing is the new playbook. Last year I was more familiar with the playbook and a lot more comfortable. It helped as far as my ability when we got to OTAs and things like that. Now I’m coming out and learning a new playbook, different schemes and what we’re trying to do on offense. It just brings me back to the fundamentals, which I think helped me last year to be the person that I was.”
Although Anderson and his teammates are learning a new playbook, many pundits (MHH included) believe that Kubiak’s system is one that will allow Anderson to thrive and utilize his vision and low center of gravity to gash the opposition. When asked how the new offense can help the team’s running backs, Anderson talked about what he likes about it and what it will take to be successful within it.
“Just being patient and being real decisive,” he said. “You can be decisive, make one cut and go. For myself, from what I liked about it from watching [Baltimore RB] Justin [Forsett] and watching [Houston RB] Arian [Foster] when I got a chance, you get your shoulder pads squared and you get your pads down, you get to be the physical back that I like to be.”
When the team reconvened last week to begin Phase One of their offseason training activities, Kubiak, a 21-year NFL coaching veteran, told Anderson that he should walk into the meeting room like a starter.
“That’s what he said. To me, I know what’s in our room,” Anderson said. “I know the talent that’s behind me or the talent that could possibly [be] in front of me. I know the talent that we have in our running back room. I know how [Running Backs] Coach [Eric] Studesville is as far as giving everybody a fair shot. It’s just up to me to take care of business and letting everything play out for itself.”
One component that will make the learning process easier for Anderson and his brethren in the running back corps is the return of Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville, a factor General Manager John Elway surely considered, along with Kubiak, when assembling the Broncos new coaching staff.
”The fact that we kept ‘Studes,’ I think we’re all proud about that in our room,” Anderson said. “He just breaks things down. He knows us individually as players. It’s not like we have to get to know as new coach and a new coach has to get to know us. He knows us individually and he knows what we do best, what ways to talk to us and what ways to get us to learn the offense.”
Despite his confidence, personal accolades and the recent accomplishments of the Broncos organization, Anderson still has a world-sized chip on his shoulder—the fire that burns in many of the NFL’s former undrafted rookie free agents.
“That and being undrafted, that always helps playing with a chip on his shoulder,” he said. “The more reps you get, the more confidence you get. I always had confidence in my ability and what I can do. The fact that I was still undrafted, there are a lot of backs out there that were picked before me [and that] will always be my hunger.”
As the Broncos traverse their OTAs this spring and into early summer, one of the primary focuses is staying in game-shape—and staying healthy. Working with Strength and Conditioning Coach Luke Richesson has helped many players, including DeMarcus Ware, navigate the pitfalls and physical obstacles of the grueling 16-game regular season.
“I feel confident and comfortable with myself going into camp,” he said. “After the season I had last year—I knew coming in this offseason that I need to be in shape and ready to go. I just had to be ready for whatever. At the Pro Bowl, I talked to [Cowboys TE] Jason Witten and that is the one thing he told me: ‘When you get a new staff, you only get one impression.’ If your first impression is how your body looks—because I was a weight guy—if your first impression is how your body looks, that’s a good impression to start it off on the right foot.”
Anderson’s trip to the Pro Bowl gave him the opportunity to learn many things. It also gave him the chance to get the inside scoop on the Kubiak offense from fellow Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett, who experienced a career renaissance in Baltimore last year. Forsett gave Anderson the inside slant on what to expect from Kubiak and his offense.
”We talked for a long time,” Anderson said of Forsett. “We did at the Pro Bowl and he gave me some cues. He called me maybe two weeks ago just asking me how things are going. The questions I had, he helped me out with it. Coaches to players—‘Studes’ is learning differently compared to how I’m learning; we’re all learning in a different way. When you hear it and you see it from player-to-player it kind of made a little more sense. Whatever works for you, Coach ‘Studes’—that’s one of things I love about him—whatever works for you, whatever the terminology or however you have to put it, whatever works for you to be in the right spot at the right time, he’s with that. Justin helped me a lot with that. At the end of the day, it’s coming along better now. Our second week in and I’ve put a lot of time into it. I’m putting a lot of time into it, a lot of hours. It’s coming in better. For me, it’s actually seeing it. I can talk about it and tell you guys what I need to do all day, but now it’s actually me seeing it and repping it so that it can click and we can move on.”
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If Anderson’s initial impressions can indicate how Kubiak’s scheme will fit with the Broncos current personnel, including Peyton Manning, Broncos Country has a lot to look forward to.
“I’m going to love it,” he said.
If Kubiak’s system can work for a journeyman like Forsett and the statuesque Joe Flacco, surely it can do wonders for fellow Pro Bowlers Anderson and Manning, who seemed to share a brain down the stretch in 2014.
”I just think we’re going to be more balanced,” Anderson said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got one of the best quarterbacks (QB Peyton Manning) to ever play this game. We’ve got [WR] Demaryius [Thomas] on the outside if we can get that done, which that will be great. We’ve got [WR] Emmanuel [Sanders] on the outside. [WR] Cody [Latimer] is going to have a big year. We still have ‘Bubba’ (WR Andre Caldwell) playing at a high level. With ‘Virg’ (TE Virgil Green) and ‘O.D.’ (TE Owen Daniels) at the tight ends and ‘J.C.’ (TE James Casey), that helps out a lot. We still have a lot of weapons on the outside so we can put the ball in the air and be just as effective as we were. We have weapons in the backfield that can also make it happen.”
With two years of NFL experience under his belt and many accomplishments, including a trip to the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, what are Anderson’s personal goals for 2015?
“Win the Super Bowl.”
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