ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Shortly after Gary Kubiak was hired as Denver Broncos coach this past January, he said running back C.J. Anderson should "walk in" to the team’s offseason program "and act like" he was the starting running back.
As the Broncos' offseason program draws to a close this week, Anderson will walk out into what remains of the offseason as the team's starting running back.
Anderson has taken the most snaps with the offensive starters in organized team activities and two veteran minicamps, though Montee Ball is pushing Anderson hard in hopes of creating what Ball has called a "1A, 1B" rotation. Kubiak was asked after Monday's OTA where things stand at running back.
In what will be some of his last public comments on the matter until training camp opens in late July, Kubiak said, “We’re right where we’re at. Obviously, C.J., that’s in a lot of ways his spot to hang on to. I think that Montee has had a great offseason. I think Ronnie [Hillman] has had a really good offseason. I think it's very competitive. You never know about the backs until you put the pads on. I think C.J. has worked extremely hard. Coming off of last year, he deserves that opportunity, and I think he's getting ready for that opportunity. But he knows he’s being pushed very hard."
Anderson gained 648 yards in the last six games of the 2014 regular season, and Kubiak saw that Anderson's vision in traffic and one-cut decisiveness make him a fit in the new offense.
But the team's coaches also wanted to see how Anderson would approach this year's offseason program. Last season he showed up for the offseason work about 15 pounds heavier than the team wanted him to be. He looked sluggish in those early OTA workouts and in the minicamp.
Anderson had rebounded by training camp and did quality work through the preseason. But he still entered the regular season behind Ball and Hillman on the depth chart and didn't get his chance at being the primary back until Ball suffered a season-ending groin injury and Hillman injured his foot in a Nov. 9 game in Oakland.
But this time around, the Broncos like what they've seen from Anderson in the offseason enough to keep him in the No. 1 spot coming into training camp. Kubiak said Monday that Anderson’s ability in the passing game, both in protection and as a receiver, has kept him there.
"I think in this league as coaches you look for guys that can be three-down players," Kubiak said. "When you have two-down players, that's fine, but it's just very difficult in the game standpoint and getting them the ball and calling the game when you're not out there all the time. He has a knack for protection, he's very bright in protection. So he's a guy that’s not going to leave the field -- as much as he can stand. And that's what the great ones do, so that gives him an excellent chance."
However, Ball stepped up his offseason work, including a new flexibility regimen that incorporated Pilates, and is intent on making the decision as difficult as possible.
"No question, I've said I know with what C.J. did last year, you can't keep him on the bench," Ball said. "But I'm going to do everything I can to get back into that No. 1 spot, where I was last year. However we do it, we'll work hard and get it done; that's the kind of group we have at running back. But if you're asking me if I can get that No. 1 job back, I think I can."