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  • Peter Schaffer

Rams approach the finish line, but C.J. Anderson is just getting started

THOUSAND OAKS — He didn’t ask for these fresh legs. Quite the contrary.

He’d rather bear the honorable badges that decorate your body when you run 20-plus times for 16 games.

“But now I’m the freshest running back in the league,” C.J. Anderson said Thursday. “I’m running around in practice like a kid.”

He wore a yellow knit cap in the Thursday rain and he laughed from deep inside. He is playing September football in January. But then he’s gone the 19-game distance before and thrived in a Super Bowl. He knows and appreciates the difference.

The Rams invade the Superdome Sunday to grab an NFC championship. They were there in November and lost 45-35. That was then. Anderson is now.

In three games he has found 422 yards in the defensive thickets, averaging 6.39 yards per carry. With the Saints’ Sheldon Rankins injured, Anderson and Todd Gurley see a chance to run early and often and keep the football out of Drew Brees’ cold-hearted hands.

Now the Rams have a hard-hitting Plan B. When Todd Gurley hurt his knee they fetched Anderson from the couch after the Panthers and Raiders had released him. Anderson had run only 24 times.

But cornerback Aqib Talib was in Denver three years ago, when Anderson lugged it 23 times for 90 yards in the 23-10 Super Bowl win.

“I told the guys,” Talib said. “The bigger the game, the better he is.”

“He’s always been able to do that,” said John Beam, Anderson’s coach at Laney College in Oakland. “But it looks like he’s put on a few pounds.”

Anderson is 5-foot-8 and listed at 225. A few extra pounds are going to show. He joked that he was honoring his wife’s pregnancy, but said later that he had gotten soft, with no gaps to attack, no linebackers to pound.

“Carolina had said he was going to get a chance,” said Peter Schaffer, Anderson’s agent, “but then the coaches fell in love with Christian McCaffrey.”

McCaffrey gave the Panthers pretty stats, with his check-down catches. The Panthers also dropped from fourth to 12th in time of possession and missed the playoffs, and Cam Newton didn’t get through the year.

“He had a hell of a year,” Anderson said of McCaffrey. “He could have been Offensive Player of the Year. Then the Raiders got a couple of offensive linemen hurt and they did what they had to do, to protect their franchise quarterback (Derek Carr).”

“This is the life of an undrafted player in the NFL,” Schaffer said.

Anderson transferred from Laney to Cal in 2011 and was basically a second option for two years. He still was invited to the combine and had the third-best shuttle-run time at his position.

But 22 running backs got drafted in 2013, including UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, now a Rams executive. Anderson didn’t. That’s why he signs his tweets 32-254-22, referring to the number of NFL teams and the number of players drafted, and why he wore 22 for Denver and passed out “22” T-shirts at his camps.

“Fortunately he’s so smart about running,” Schaffer said. “He brings his iPad to the house and shows me angles, ways that he gets through holes.”

“A lot of it is common sense, like life. Just using body position, figuring out what’s going to work against certain fronts,” Anderson said.

Beam knew Anderson from Bethel High, in Pittsburg, where Anderson played some veer quarterback but was seen as a defensive back.

Anderson chose Laney, which is a running back haven. Beam’s Eagles won the 2018 state title over Ventura as John McDonald ran for 217 yards. That’s on 38 carries. It’s a place where you freshen your own legs.

Anderson scored 13 TDs as a Laney sophomore. His 1,644 yards led all northern California community college runners. In his first game, he ran for 217 yards on eight trips against Sequoia.

Beam was long since sold. There were two scheduled weight sessions each day in the offseason. Anderson opted for 6:30 a.m, even though he lived in Vallejo, on the other side of the Carquinez Bridge.

“Ninety minutes each way,” Beam said. “He never missed a session.”

“I’d get on Curtola Parkway, get on the 80 (bus), get to the El Cerritos Del Norte BART station, get on the train, then get off at Lake Merritt,” Anderson said.

Then Jahvid Best left Cal early, for the pros, and a spot opened for Anderson.

Put up another win for know-how and persistence, over appearance and probability.

But, upon further review, there were 24 backs taken in that 2013 draft that ignored Anderson. Not 22.

“Two fullbacks,” Anderson said, laughing again. “They don’t count.”

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