DENVER — Gary Kubiak knows his running backs.
The Denver Broncos routinely had the NFL’s finest running attack while Kubiak was Mike Shanahan’s offensive coordinator for a decade, highlighted by two Super Bowl rings.
It was a running joke that Shanahan and Kubiak could pick a random dude out of the Coors factory in nearby Golden and make him a 1,000-yard rusher. As the head coach in Houston, Kubiak’s ability to successfully run continued when he turned Arian Foster from an undrafted free agent to a perennial Pro Bowl running back.
So when C.J. Anderson caught Kubiak’s eye, it meant something. Kubiak said Anderson has been terrific since the start of training camp, giving him a sign that he will have a terrific 2016 season.
“I’ve always been a big believer, through my years with Mike (Shanahan) especially, when guys have good camps, they play well (during the regular season),” Kubiak said. “C.J. had a great camp. He didn’t miss a day of practice. … You look at players that are there every day in training camp and go through the six weeks. It’s just something about that carry over. With that being in mind, to me, C.J. is off to a great start.”
Of course, if Anderson’s first regular-season game of this year was any indication, Kubiak will be praising him all season long. Anderson was a catalyst in Denver’s thrilling, 21-20 victory over the Carolina Panthers last Thursday night in a Super Bowl rematch.
Anderson had 92 yards rushing on 20 carries and he added 47 yards on 4 receptions. Most importantly, Anderson scored twice. Both touchdowns came in the fourth quarter as the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos came back from a 17-7 halftime deficit. Anderson scored on a 25-yard pass play and then pushed his way in from the 1-yard line for the game-winning touchdown.
“C.J. he is just so smart,” Denver receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “He’s smart and he works hard.”
It was a big first step for Anderson, who is clearly the Broncos’ lead back. The Broncos showed they had big plans for the former undrafted free agent when they matched a four-year, $18 million deal he signed with the Miami Dolphins in restricted free agency.
Anderson had 849 rushing yards in 2014 and he added 720 yards last season. By the look of both the way Anderson ran and the way Denver used him against Carolina, there’s no reason to believe Anderson can’t become a 1,000-yard rusher this season. Denver drafted Devontae Booker from Utah and he will be part of the offense, but Anderson is clearly the first option in this attack.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to suggest that Anderson is one of the most critical players on Denver’s roster. The Broncos want to use the same blueprint as they defend their Super Bowl title as they did when they won the Super Bowl: Play great defense and control the ball on offense.
With surprise starting quarterback Trevor Siemian, the Broncos want to play measured on offense, rely on the run and let Siemian pick his spots.
That’s how Denver beat Carolina on Thursday night. The defense took over in the second half and offensively, Anderson set the tone.
Anderson is ready to be a focal point of Denver’s attack.
“It’s our second year in the system and now we understand what we’re really trying to get done. That’s a good thing,” Anderson said. “I’m not thinking as much when I’m out there, I’m playing. I definitely left some plays out there, but the goal is to be consistent. Not just show up on prime time nights like I’ve done in the past, but to be consistent.”
Anderson said he has heard talk that the Denver offense is a weak spot and not much is expected from it this year. He hopes the performance by himself and the unit as a whole opened some eyes around the NFL in Week 1.
“I’m just doing what I can. There’s a lot of negativity about myself and a lot of negativity about our offense,” Anderson said. “I’m just trying to do the best that I can and the best for my teammates so they know in that locker room that No. 22 is going to play. The game tonight was kind of like people didn’t act like I had 100 all-purpose yards against the same team in the Super Bowl, so that’s kind of how I took it and I just had fun tonight.”
Kubiak will give Anderson plenty of more opportunities to have fun in his offense this season.