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Broncos believe C.J. Anderson ready for leading role in offense

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The sample size for Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson being "The Guy" is essentially eight regular-season games.

That’s because until both Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman suffered injuries last season, Anderson was pinned at No. 3 on the depth chart and had just 17 carries in the first eight games of the season. But when Hillman suffered a foot injury Nov. 9 in Oakland, Anderson finished that game with 90 yards rushing and 73 yards receiving.

Anderson then rushed for 648 yards over the last six games of the regular season. With that information Gary Kubiak declared Anderson as the team’s No. 1 back shortly after Kubiak took the job in January.

“I think that he’s earned every opportunity that he’s gotten, or the one he’s fixing to get," Kubiak said Wednesday. “I think that he’s had an excellent offseason and training camp."

And from what they’ve seen on video, on the practice field and even in some limited duty in preseason games, the Broncos have every reason to believe Anderson is that No. 1 guy. They believe he is ready to flourish in a revamped run game with a system that has routinely churned out the 1,000-yard rushers over the years.

In fact, in Kubiak’s time as either an offensive coordinator or head coach with the Broncos, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens -- 20 seasons -- backs have topped 1,000 yards in 15 of those years. That's why they believe Anderson is ready and will make the jump from late-season cameo to full blown leading man in the team’s run game.

“Just have fun, that’s all that I did for eight games, so now I get to have fun for 16," Anderson said. “I think that’s fine. I think that when I’m having fun, I’m at my best."

“It’s a big stage," Kubiak said. “He knows that he has some help with Ronnie [Hillman] and Juwan [Thompson]. They both had good camps, but it’s time. If you’re one of those players, it’s time when you get that second year under your belt if you’re going to become a big-time player in this league; this is usually where you start to make those steps."

However, Anderson has never been a starter for a full season dating back to his two years at California and his first two seasons in Dnever. He started two games at Cal to go with seven starts last season for the Broncos. He didn't start in 2013, when he made the roster as an undrafted free agent.

The Broncos expect Anderson to pump up that start total this season.

“I think he has grown, I think sometimes you forget that he is a young player, but he's played a lot of football in his young career," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. “He's been in a lot of situations ... and he's really a bright player. I think he has a good concept of what defenses are doing."

In his previous seasons as a play-caller Kubiak has shown he will make a back a workhorse. In his first eight seasons as Broncos offensive coordinator the team had a back that finished at least 57 percent of the team's carries six times.

Over the past 12 seasons, a back in Kubiak’s offense topped 55 percent of the carries in three seasons -- Arian Foster in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Part of the equation is staying on the field. While the Broncos will certainly use Hillman in a variety of situations, the Broncos say Anderson has improved his pass blocking enough to be a reliable third-down option.

“He can see, especially when you're back there in the shotgun, he and I are talking a lot," Manning said. “He kind of has an understanding of which way the defense is rotating, so he know where the blitz might occur. That is development right there and that comes with experience ... The more you know what you're doing, the more confident you are. He's really done a good job taking advantage of those reps."

“I just think that I’ve just grown as a pass blocker by just getting the reps," Anderson said. “With [Manning], we’re only going to get so many blitzes per game. People rarely blitz. They don’t like to because he throws a shot down the field and it’s a touchdown ... You have to want to do it and I just think that’s somewhere that I’ve grown because I wanted to get better at that in my game."