ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – There were times when Peyton Manning would get a question about running back C.J. Anderson, and before Manning would roll out the inevitable compliments about Anderson’s abilities and potential, the future Hall of Fame quarterback would offer, with a wry smile, that Anderson “acts like he’s a 10-year guy."
Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville has said that when he tosses out a question in a meeting, Anderson "will always have his hand up, ready to answer, and sometimes he’ll answer when somebody else needs to."
Yet here Anderson, now in his fourth Broncos training camp since the team signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2013, is offering that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t have all the answers in his first three years -- that he needed to make some changes in how he prepared for a season.
That's especially true in a year when the Broncos not only matched an $18 million offer sheet from the Miami Dolphins to keep Anderson, but then handed him a pile of expectations with the new deal as well.
“We’ve seen what C.J. can do and we’ve got a lot of confidence in C.J.," said Broncos executive vice president of football operations and general manager John Elway. “The key thing for him to do is to stay healthy."
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has said he believes Anderson has made it clear “he’s a three-down player" and that he believes Anderson can be a lead back. The Cal product has had some quality big-game moments; when the Broncos wanted to crank up the run game in Super Bowl 50, they handed the ball to Anderson.
The flip side is Anderson has not had a season with at least 180 carries with the Broncos or more than 850 yards. Former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, now the Dolphins head coach, has said conditioning was a hurdle for Anderson at times.
And Anderson admits that in previous offseasons, including one with the Broncos when he arrived to the offseason program at 240 pounds, he didn’t do everything he has done this time around.
“[I’m] more in shape to carry the load," Anderson said. “[To] have six, seven, eight-play drive, not come off the field too much."
To do that, Anderson changed his workout plan for the offseason. He stayed in the 217-220 pound range and has arrived to training camp looking, and acting, the part of a lead back.
“Me … leaning up, keeps them happy, off my back, and keeps me where I need me to be,’’ Anderson said. “ … Diet, weightlifting, lot more conditioning, really, lot more running, did a lot more running this offseason training than I’ve ever done.’’
And in the timing-is-everything department, Anderson has done this when Kubiak has already promised the Broncos will crank up the run game this offseason. With Manning behind center the last four seasons, the Broncos ran the ball between 38.9 percent of the time (2015) and 44.1 percent of the time (2012).
Those totals figure to go up, and the Broncos’ draft class reflects that as well, with fourth-round pick running back Devontae Booker and sixth-round pick fullback Andy Janovich. Booker, because of his vision as a runner as well as his ability as a receiver, will almost certainly get himself in the rotation, but Anderson has worked as the unquestioned No. 1 back through the offseason.
Asked if he’s ready to be one of the “faces" of the Broncos -- one of the leaders in this first post-Manning season -- Anderson expressed that same confidence and desire that has taken him this far.
“Of course, I mean who doesn’t? I also want to do the things that I need to do within the system and within the team. I’m not going to go out there and do anything extra. The C.J. that you know, he’s going to do the same things, but I’m just going to elevate it a lot more.
“If you’re playing well, you have people saying that you’re playing well, and they’re looking behind you and your teammates are looking at you giving it your all, it makes it much easier than if you’re not playing well. If you’re doing things the wrong way and then you are trying to tell the team, 'Hey man, we need to do this,' nobody is going to listen to you too much.”