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Fifteen players to watch at Broncos training camp - 11. C.J. Anderson

Posted Jul 16, 2017

Healthy after missing nine games last year because of a torn meniscus, C.J. Anderson heads into training camp poised for a big year after a strong offseason.

The best sign for C.J. Anderson during OTAs and minicamp was that the fifth-year running back showed no signs of lingering discomfort from the torn meniscus that ended his 2016 season after just seven games.

His cuts were sharp. His reading of holes as they developed was quick. His burst to the outside brought back memories of his work in 2014, when he used the gaps created by a similar offensive scheme run by then-coordinator Adam Gase to explode for 1,057 yards from scrimmage in the final eight games of the regular season. Only two players had more yards than Anderson in that span, which propelled him to the Pro Bowl, even though he rarely touched the football before November 2014.

This is the Anderson that the Broncos want to see once again. This the Anderson that he believes you'll see -- especially with Mike McCoy guiding the offense and bringing back many concepts that Gase used.

“It’s a lot of carry-over," Anderson said last month. "[McCoy] and Gase see things a little different. That’s the only difference. He sees things one way, Gase sees things a different way."

Health is the biggest key, of course, and injuries have been a near-constant companion for Anderson since his breakthrough season. He slogged through an ankle injury early in 2015 and didn't find his form until the Week 7 bye that year allowed him a chance to rest.

To give himself a better chance at staying healthy and productive for the full season, Anderson began riding a bicycle often, taking up an activity favored by the only position coach he's ever known as a pro, Eric Studesville.

"I just think conditioning is a big part, which is why I got into cycling," Anderson said during OTAs. "I think endurance helps me a lot more, but as far as staying on the field for 16 games, I think I’ve been there.

"Now, being productive for 16 games is a different story -- and that’s what I want to do this year. Not just stay on the field, and hey, No. 22 is on the field. I want to be productive while I’m on the field for those 16 games. That’s the whole plan this year."

There is little question that the Broncos needed him in 2016, and the collapse of their ground game after his season-ending injury showed his importance.

With Anderson in the lineup, the Broncos ranked 18th in average per carry (4.11 yards) and 14th in first-down rate, moving the chains once every 4.22 attempts. Neither number was what they wanted, but these were respectable figures that ensured offensive balance.

Without him, they were dead last in the league in both metrics. By December, the offense was one-dimensional, and defenses had no reason to play the Broncos honestly.

Newcomers Jamaal Charles and De'Angelo Henderson give the Broncos plenty of depth and options for McCoy to keep the running backs fresh, so the Broncos are better-equipped to withstand injuries than they were last year.

But Anderson knows this scheme. He's in the prime of his career. He has the most multi-faceted skill set. He has the experience of carrying the offense on his back during a playoff run.

The Broncos' best chance of ground success remains with him carrying the load. He is ready for that responsibility.

“I’m good, ready to go," he said last month. "That’s the best way that I can sum it up."

C.J. Anderson