ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Jamaal Charles isn’t the only running back embarking on a comeback in Denver.
C.J. Anderson missed the last half of last season with a torn meniscus in his right knee, and Devontae Booker is finally healthy after slogging through his rookie season while dealing with the after-effects of two knee operations.
Both have been leading the Broncos backfield during OTAs while Charles waits for training camp to get on the field.
While Charles is more of an unknown, the Broncos are expecting big bounce-backs from Anderson and Booker.
The Broncos were feeling good about their surging ground game last season when Anderson and Booker combined for 190 yards in a rout of Houston on Oct. 24. Anderson showed up the next day with a sore right knee and needed season-ending surgery. He was the first of three running backs to land on IR.
Booker hit that rookie wall shortly afterward before showing some flashes in the season finale against Oakland.
“I think what happened to Book is what happens to a lot of young players,” running backs coach Eric Studesville said. “They really don’t understand the toll of the NFL game over a season. Their bodies are just not ready for it, and they’re young bodies. But his is a 21-year-old body that hasn’t been through that and the pounding you take, especially at running back every week wore him down.
“He’s got to continue to work. He’s got a long way to go, and I’m going to help him get there.”
Even though Booker faded down the stretch, he finished strong, totaling 109 yards against the Raiders in the season finale and finishing the season with a team-high 612 yards rushing with four touchdowns and another 265 yards and a TD on 31 receptions.
In Mike McCoy’s system, the Broncos are expecting him to obliterate those marks in 2017.
“Absolutely. That’s what my job is with him,” Studesville said. “I mean, I’ve got to push him past where he is. If he’s the same as he was last year, we’re not better. So, he’s got to be better. I’ve got to push him. I will. The other guys have to push him. He’s got to push those other guys.”
Not only does Booker figure to play better in the team’s new gap blocking scheme that’s replaced Gary Kubiak’s old zone blocking scheme, but the Broncos are counting on Booker catching plenty of passes out of the backfield.
“He’s got phenomenal hands. Phenomenal hands,” Studesville said. “But we’ve got to put him in a position where he can utilize those, and he’s got to put himself in position where he can win and get those snaps.”
Booker, who played in a gap-blocking scheme at Utah, is a big fan of McCoy’s system.
“I love the offense already,” he said. “They do a lot with the running backs.”
Booker is no longer bogged down by either his balky knee or his adjustment from the college game to the pros.
“Last year it was a lot of thinking, me being out there nervous and just thinking about the whole offense, my whole head was spinning around,” he said. “Now, even though we’ve got a new offense … everything’s starting to slow up and I’m able to play faster now.”
Another year removed from his knee surgeries has allowed Booker to put in a full offseason: “I’ve just been working my butt off in the weight room and getting my body back into football shape to get ready to take hits.”
Ditto Anderson, who added cycling to his offseason regimen this season.
“I just thought it was another way of training, take some pounding off my body. (Studesville) does it. The goal is to keep up with him and he can go,” Anderson said.
He said he logs 65 to 70 miles on weekends, and while he’s not sure it’s sped his recovery any, “I do think it’s helping me tone up, be stronger, conditioned, play more plays,” Anderson said.
NOTES: Other Broncos backs are also making comebacks: Fullback Andy Janovich is returning from an injury-filled rookie campaign marred by a broken hand and season-ending ankle surgery in December. Free agent Bernard Pierce is coming back from a torn hamstring that landed him on the Jets’ IR list all last season. … Former Broncos linebacker Tom Graham died Tuesday in Denver at age 67 after battling brain cancer. Graham was a standout at Oregon before playing for the Broncos (1972-74), Chiefs (1974), Chargers (1975-77) and Bills (1978).
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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