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Five Thoughts: C.J. Anderson, Marvin Austin and Cranking Up the Run

Posted Aug 14, 2014

C.J. Anderson's new helmet, Marvin Austin's "chess game" and the blossoming of the run blocking are in the Day 22 spotlight.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- One week after suffering a concussion, C.J. Anderson was back at practice, taking part in full-contact team and nine-on-seven periods.

"I don't think they're easing me back in, because (Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville) was killing me today," Anderson said.

Anderson said he cleared the NFL's post-concussion protocol in recent days; he passed the test a day after being injured and cleared examinations four and five days later.

"Thanks to all the guys who fought for it back in the day. Just thank them. I'm happy they got the protocol," Anderson said.

"It takes seven days and they just want to make sure everything's going right, going smooth so you don't push yourself back out there. As a competitor, that's what you want to do, but as a player and as a human being, you have to understand that you have to take your time."

And it's not done.

"Even now, even though I'm considered healthy, even now, I have to go back in with 'Greek' (Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos) and still do some testing, still do some protocol, just make sure we've got everything," Anderson said. "You only get one brain, so try to protect it the best way you can. I'm a Cal guy, so I love my brain (laughing)."

Anderson has to put that brain to work on the field, given the high cerebral demands of the running back in that offense. But there is a period of re-adjustment for him, and that's where today's Five Thoughts begins.

1. Anderson's biggest adjustment was to a new helmet. He noted that it was "kind of tight at times," owing to its newness and its design, which is predicated on reducing concussions.

"The helmet I had was a three-star, and this is supposed to be a five-star," Anderson said. "It's one of the best helmets that's out right now."

The helmet was a product of ongoing research at Virginia Tech into designing helmets that reduce the risk of concussions. The school of biomedical engineering and sciences that is shared by Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University rates helmets on a one-to-five-star scale.

Anderson says he won't go back to his old helmet. But the new headgear requires some adjustment.

"It feels kind of high on me -- like super, super high. It's going to be awhile to get used to it, but as soon as I get it to break in and I'm running the ball and taking a couple hits, it's just football after that," he said.

"I got hit plenty of times today and it felt okay. Felt fine. The helmet's working perfect and my head is still here and I remembered the next play, I remembered that play, and from there you just go on and play football."

2. Like Nigel Tufnel's speakers, Marvin Austin says he goes up to 11 -- on the one-to-10 scale of how he feels. His focus now is on working on his individual moves, which he used during the one-on-one drill. Austin used a swim move to beat Orlando Franklin, a rip move to get past Vinston Painter and a simple bull rush to push center Max Paradis back several steps.

"It's a game of chess for us," Austin said, reciting the series of moves and countermoves that he must process "in .23 milliseconds. 'Hut!' and you've got to figure out, 'Did he over-set me? did he short-set me? Did he punch me with this hand? What move am I going to do? What's the countermove if he counters my move?"

Three weeks into camp, and it would seem that the offensive line has seen everything Austin can offer. He insists that is not the case.

"I'm still bringing out some of my moves. I haven't (brought) everything out," Austin said. "I just want to make sure I stay healthy, so I'm not doing a lot of spinning or quick moves and stuff like that."

Instead, he's focusing on lining up with his left hand in the dirt, something at which he had little experience before joining the Broncos.

"It's dexterity. There are certain things that you do -- you write with your right hand. You pick up a weight with your right hand," Austin said. "Now I'm conditioning my mind to pick up everything with my left, do stuff with my left. If I'm going into a drill, I want to put my left hand down, even though my right hand is comfortable. It's just different, and I think I'm getting a lot better at it."

3. Some of the other standouts of a spirited one-on-one period included:

  • Defensive end Shaquil Barrett, who beat Ryan Clady by getting low and maintaining his balance to get to the quarterback;
  • Center Manny Ramirez, who consistently got his hands up quickly and kept his opposing defensive linemen from getting quick penetration into the backfield;
  • Defensive lineman Malik Jackson, who used a swim move to get inside Louis Vasquez in a duel of 2013 starters;
  • Linebacker Von Miller, who used a spin move to the inside to explode past right tackle Chris Clark. Miller generated consistent pressure during the team periods of practice, as well;
  • Defensive end Quanterus Smith, who worked past Michael Schofield by maintaining his balance even as Schofield got him out of position. Smith was able to recover and maintain his speed to get to the tackling dummy in the backfield.

4. Being able to pass from formations aside from the Broncos' three-wide receiver set is essential. Last year, they averaged 4.2 yards per carry, 7.9 yards per pass play and 5.7 yards overall when tight ends Julius Thomas and Virgil Green lined up together. That was slightly below the season-long pass play average (7.7 yards) and average per play (6.3 yards), but a bit above the overall average per rush (4.1). They also averaged one first down every 3.02 plays with both tight ends lined up, just a bit worse than the overall average of one first down every 2.89 plays.

So the formation is effective, but there's a bit of room for improvement. Misdirection is one way to get there, and the Broncos used that for perhaps the best offensive play of the day, a deep play-action strike from Peyton Manning to Julius Thomas in which he moved opposite to the flow of the play.

5. Perhaps the most well-executed run of the day came early in the first team period of practice, when Orlando Franklin and Manny Ramirez made a flawless seal to the left side, opening a hole through which Ronnie Hillman sprinted.

"Two years ago, they were playing right guard and right tackle together, so they kind of do have a little communication there," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "I'm not really sure how it will go in the long run, but it looks like it's on the up(swing)."