ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – At first, C.J. Anderson just didn’t get Gary Kubiak‘s insistence on giving the starters so much rest and the backups so many snaps during spring workouts.
Kubiak said he’d inherited a Denver Broncos team with too big of a gap between the first- and second-stringers when he took over from ousted John Fox.
“When you look at the philosophy in April, you go like, ‘Bruh, what is this dude doing?'” Anderson said. “And then you look at it now, it’s amazing.”
The Broncos (12-4), who host the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-6) on Sunday, epitomize the mantra that it takes everybody to succeed, from the blue-chippers on down to the 53rd guy on the roster.
Only one player, center Matt Paradis, played every single snap on offense, and nobody on the league’s stingiest defense even came close.
Peyton Manning missed midseason games for the first time in his career, but with Brock Osweiler under center, Denver rolled right on to the AFC’s No. 1 seed by winning five of his seven starts. Pro Bowl pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware gave way aplenty to youngsters Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett, who helped Denver finish No. 1 on defense for the first time in franchise history.
And Ryan Harris moved over from right tackle to fill in when Denver lost two left tackles.
“You look at Max Garcia. How many rookie guards you know play behind two All-Pros, two Pro Bowlers, in their career and actually get the opportunity to get a lot of snaps?” asked Anderson.
Garcia played nearly half the snaps this year while subbing for Evan Mathis and Louis Vasquez.
“I think it’s helped us tremendously,” said Anderson, who splits carries with Ronnie Hillman. “It’s a big help. We’re all fresh, and everybody’s going to contribute to winning. It won’t be like that guy who was like, ‘I was just on that team.'”
Now, when their number gets called in the playoffs …
“They’re not all wide-eyed like, ‘Ahhh!'” Anderson said. “They’re ready to go.”
Thanks to Kubiak. Denver’s coach was the ultimate backup in his playing days, serving behind Hall of Famer John Elway and dressing for 130 games during his nine-year career that included five starts – he was 3-2.
Kubiak is the just the ninth coach to earn a No. 1 conference seed in his first year with a team.
“We’re not like a lot of teams that say, ‘next man up,'” Anderson said. “No, you’re on this 53 for a reason, you can play ball. And he told us when he first came here in April, we’re going to use everybody. That’s why we all rotate. He said it: ‘We’re going to need all 53 to get to the goal we want to get to.'”
Kubiak deserves Coach of the Year honors, Miller suggested, for the way he kept the Broncos from unravelling while dealing with major issues at the game’s foundational positions: quarterback, edge rusher and blindside protector.
Denver lost left tackles Ryan Clady in May and then Ty Sambrailo in September to IR. Manning’s left foot injury sidelined him for six games and parts of two others and Osweiler led Denver to comebacks from two-touchdown deficits against the Patriots and Bengals, the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the AFC.
Ware missed five full games and parts of three others with a bad back and balky knee, but Ray and Barrett combined for 9 1-2 sacks.
The Broncos won nine games by seven points or fewer and beat five of seven fellow playoff teams while facing the league’s toughest schedule. This month, Kubiak didn’t hesitate to go back to Manning as his starting QB even after declaring Osweiler had done nothing to deserve a demotion.
“He did a great job,” linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “He had to weather the storm this year.”
What the players really appreciated was that they didn’t have to guess what was going on or turn to Twitter to see who was going to be under center.
Kubiak told them first thing every Monday.
“There’s no guessing,” Anderson said.
Tight end Owen Daniels, who spent eight seasons with Kubiak in Houston and one year with him in Baltimore before following him to Denver, said Kubiak makes sure when things go wrong, “we don’t go in the tank.”
“This team has the most depth of any team I’ve ever been on,” Daniels said. “A ton of good talent everywhere. That’s a good thing to have when things go wrong, and you go through adversity like that.”
Nobody freaked out when Manning got hurt in November or when he got his job back this month.
No QB controversy here.
“We’re a team, so we’re going to rally behind whoever is in there,” Marshall said. “We’ve had so many different starters this year at various positions, so the quarterback is the same to us. We’ve had different starters at safety, linebacker, D-end, outside backer. So, we’re going to rally behind whoever plays.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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