ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Emmanuel Sanders couldn’t help but notice running back C.J. Anderson sauntering around the Denver Broncos headquarters this month “with his chest a little big.”
Who could blame him?
The third-year pro burst onto the NFL scene last season, earning a Pro Bowl invitation after rushing for 849 yards and eight TDs despite not starting until Nov. 16.
New coach Gary Kubiak is bringing his zone-blocking scheme back to Denver and is on the record saying that the starting tailback job is Anderson’s to lose.
“He’s fortunate to be playing in this offense,” Sanders said. “I think he’s going to have a big year.”
Anderson expects that, too, but that swagger Sanders perceives in him is probably just a skip in his step, not braggadocio.
While he’s excited to play a big role in the new mashup offense mixing Kubiak’s run-oriented philosophies with Peyton Manning’s passing, Anderson remains humble and takes nothing for granted.
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“I know what’s in our room. I know the talent that’s behind me or the talent that could possibly be in front of me,” Anderson said of Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, whose injuries last year vaulted him to the top of the depth chart.
Anderson insists he’s approaching the upcoming season the same way he approached last season, when he entered camp behind Ball and Hillman.
He had just 17 carries for 82 yards and a TD reception in the first half of 2014 before zigzagging his way for a 51-yard TD catch on a dump-off pass against Oakland on Nov. 9. That sparked a spectacular stretch run that earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl and high praise from Kubiak.
Despite his coach saying he’s the incumbent, Anderson knows he has to prove himself all over again.
“Nothing is handed to you,” said Anderson, who used his first trip to the Pro Bowl to glean advice from seasoned pros.
Cowboys tight end Jason Whitten admonished him to show up in shape for a new coaching staff, telling him, “That’s a good impression to start off on the right foot,” recounted Anderson.
Ever since his days at California, Anderson used to pack on the pounds in the offseason and then work it all off in the spring.
Not this year.
He arrived for the Broncos’ offseason program without any of the extra body fat he had last year, when he showed up at 237 pounds, way too much for his 5-foot-8 frame, incurring the wrath of his coaches who warned him he was risking his roster spot by overeating.
Now he’s at around his playing weight of 220.
Anderson also huddled with Ravens running back Justin Forsett, who had a career year under Kubiak’s tutelage in Baltimore last season.
“We talked for a long time at the Pro Bowl and he gave me some cues,” Anderson said.
Anderson could be the best running back in Denver’s long line of good runners since Terrell Davis led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in John Elway’s final two seasons at quarterback in the late 1990s.
Count Davis in the burgeoning camp of Anderson’s admirers.
“I think C.J.’s got a bright future,” Davis said. “He’s definitely got some tools you can work with. One thing I really like about him is that dude’s hard to tackle, and that you can’t teach. You cannot teach bowling balls or pinballs. If you’ve got that, you’ve got the foundation of somebody that can get you some tough yards.
“Because that’s really what running games are about. People think it’s about 200-yard games or 150-yard games. It’s about if I need third-and-2, who’s back there? Can I count on my guy to get me 3 yards on third-and-2?” Davis said. “I’ve seen that guy do it. Over and over and over.”
Davis blushes when informed of Davis’ high praise.
“The only thing I can do now,” Anderson said, “is don’t prove him wrong.”
By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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