Anderson: 'I'm all about the team'

OWINGS MILLS -- The stoic Marine stared straight ahead, peering into the line of scrimmage for any signs of enemy penetration. Mike Anderson took the handoff Sunday night, immediately rumbling toward the hole instead of entertaining idle thoughts of dancing toward the sidelines.

With a decisive stride and the football wrapped up tight, the Baltimore Ravens' veteran backup running back busted up the middle into the secondary. He was hunched over slightly with his elbows, shoulders and legs attacking linebackers.

Twenty-one yards later, Anderson had generated a first down for the defending AFC North champions in a 13-12 loss to the New York Giants as he overshadowed starter Willis McGahee's subpar night. The 33-year-old rushed for 37 yards, gaining 11 and five yards on his other two carries.

There was little to no subtlety to Anderson's game, just old-fashioned football defined by an uncomplaining, unrelenting approach.

"You see a crease and you get in it as quick as you can and take advantage of it," Anderson said. "You don't want to be fancy, just good. You learn that when you first come into the league. You have to get that college stuff out of your system.

"You don't want to be running all around. You learn quickly that the hole closes up fast. You want to get in and get out for all of the yards you can pick up."

That straightforward mindset sprouted roots during Anderson's unlikely journey to the NFL that included four years in the Marine Corps and not playing high school sports as he specialized in the drums for the marching band at Fairfield Central High School (S.C.).

Anderson took up the quints, a set of five small drums, as a high school freshman when the coaching staff told him he was too bulky to compete for a job at running back. Eventually, he emerged as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Denver Broncos.

But not before enduring a rigorous boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., being stationed in Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif, and engaging in peace-keeping missions in Somalia and Kenya that included dangerous night-time patrols.

"Along the way, I've been around a lot of great people who came into my life and put their faith in me," Anderson said. "You try to take positive things from positive people and learn from them. You build off of it, and that's who you are."

Anderson wound up played football for a base team at Camp Pendleton, his first organized action since playing Pop Warner ball as a kid. A retired Marine lieutenant colonel recruited him to play for Mount San Jacinto Community College, which led to a scholarship from the University of Utah. Two years later, Anderson rushed for 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns as a 25-year-old rookie with the Broncos in 2000.

"The military gave me a ton of discipline," Anderson said. "As a Marine, you don't complain and you always follow orders. Yes, I still jump out of bed because sleep is overrated. It's all about having pride."

Anderson hasn't done so much as raise an eyebrow or utter a single gripe since the Ravens signed him last year to a four-year, $8 million contract last year that included a $2 million signing bonus.

Initially, Anderson thought he was going to be the starter. However, Baltimore signed former Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis a few hours after Anderson agreed to terms.

Anderson wound up rushing for 183 yards on only 39 carries last season, scoring once with the lowest workload of his seven-year NFL career. He never said a disparaging word about how he was being used.

He still isn't miffed about being behind McGahee on the depth chart following Lewis' departure to the Cleveland Browns.

"That's me," said Anderson, who will turn 34 on Sept. 21."That's my makeup. I'm all about the team. I love the guys and I had a lot of fun last year.

"If you get called on, you had better be ready. I'm about the wins, not the stats. I've had the stats. You take the highs and lows of this game in stride."

Even though the Ravens have made a $40 million investment in McGahee, it seems like there could still be a slightly increased role for Anderson this season.

The Ravens are employing more zone-blocking plays. It's a familiar alignment for Anderson, who rushed for 1,012 yards and a dozen touchdowns in 2005 under the Broncos' similar scheme.

"Mike is a great zone runner, he reads those blocks," offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel said of Anderson, who has rushed for 4,005 yards and 37 touchdowns entering his eighth season. "His time in Denver was obviously very, very productive. He's a proven veteran, so I think anytime you've got guys like him on your roster you're going to benefit from it."

It didn't take long for Anderson to impart what kind of runner and person he was to rookie fullback Le'Ron McClain. Shortly after they were introduced this spring, Anderson told him how he likes to play the game.

"Mike said, 'Just stay square and I'll cut off your block,'" McClain said. "That's power football, just pounding away. He's old-school, and I love it."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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