ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – C.J. Anderson dug deep into the archive of his career highlights to find the play that perfectly exemplifies why he’s so excited for the offensive changes the Denver Broncos have made this offseason.
He found that play midway through the 2014 season, on a sunny November afternoon in Oakland. Lined up in shotgun alongside Peyton Manning on a third down, Anderson caught a short pass behind the line of scrimmage, and then broke five tackles as he raced down one sideline and cut diagonally across the field on his way to a 51-yard touchdown.
He’s watched that play, and plenty of other moments from his first two years in the NFL, as he’s prepared himself for the 2017 season. And while this is his first year playing under offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who left the Broncos after the 2012 season to become the head coach in San Diego, the attack McCoy has installed this spring has made Anderson feel right at home.
“It's downhill, you get from Point A to Point B real quick. There's patience. You run with your eyes in this offense. Not saying in (former head coach Gary) Kubiak's you didn't, but you run with your eyes in this offense. You can choose any hole because your shoulders are square to make plays,” Anderson told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “The other part of it, you watch a lot of 2014 tape, and it's me catching the ball out of the backfield, or Peyton flexing me out and me running routes at the receiver position. That's what I'm most excited about. It shows a different part of our game.”
The offense McCoy has installed this spring isn’t a carbon copy of what he orchestrated for Manning and the Broncos in 2012, or what his successor, Adam Gase, ran in 2013-14, but it has enough similarities that Anderson believes both he and the Broncos’ entire running game will be rejuvenated.
Denver could certainly use the boost.
The Broncos rushed for just 92.8 yards per game last year, ranking 27th in the NFL. There were plenty of reasons for the struggles, from Anderson’s season-ending knee injury in mid-October (after his best game, in which he rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against the Houston Texans) to a subpar offensive line, as well as a lackluster passing game that made it easy for opposing defenses to load the box.
"Until we protect better and run the football better, it won’t matter who the quarterbacks are," first-year Broncos coach Vance Joseph said Wednesday, amid a competition between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch for the starting role. "Those two things have to happen first."
Anderson spent the second half of last season recovering from knee surgery, which was the first extended absence of his career. The injury allowed him to take a wider view of the Broncos, and he came away with a better understanding of what every player on offense was doing, as well as a better sense of what he could do to help.
He also has a new appreciation for his own health and has spent this offseason trying to get lean. He’s less concerned with the number on the scale (though he wants to be anywhere between 218-222 pounds during the season) and more focused on his body fat percentage. He’s taken up road cycling, powering through long rides on the bike trails near his home with Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville, who is an avid cyclist. Anderson is hoping to make the 62-mile, mostly uphill trek from his home to the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater west of Denver at some point before the start of training camp.
He’s also hired a personal chef, something he admits he can only afford to do now that he received a new contract last year and is no longer living on the salary of an undrafted player as he was early in his career.
He said he’s already feeling faster and stronger than ever before at this point, and it’s a credit to the changes he’s made. Anderson has never started more than seven games in a season, and he’s hoping building a better body and base now will pay off by December.
“The goal is this year to play consistently well for 16 games. Or 16-plus,” Anderson said.
If all goes according to plan for the Broncos, Anderson won’t have to carry the ball more than 20 times per game. They’re counting on contributions from veteran Jamaal Charles, who will be cleared for practices at the start of training camp, and second-year running back Devontae Booker.
“(Anderson) has got some experience and exposure in this system so it’s good getting him out there. When Jamaal comes back in camp, I think that’ll be a really special group,” Siemian said. “That’s a great room we’ve got there, we’re lucky.”