ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Six months and one day after he made a cut and tore a meniscus in his right knee, running back C.J. Anderson was back on the practice field. He wasn't 100 percent, but he was "close."
He smiled. He made his cuts on the field. He bubbled with excitement.
"Everything feels good. Everything's going according to plan," he said.
Anderson is running at full speed and is moving without a bulky knee brace. But he knows that he must stay within the parameters of the protocol established by the Broncos' training staff.
Sometimes that tests his patience.
"I'm patient to a point. I've done some things in the past where I tweaked it. It wasn't a setback, though. But I tweaked it. That's just me not listening," he said. "When you're so close, you just want to go. But these guys [the Broncos' training staff] have been doing it for a very long time. 'Greek' [Director of Sports Medicine Steve Antonopulos] has been doing it forever. I'd be an idiot not to listen to him."
Throughout his career, injuries have held Anderson back. He missed time at the beginning of his rookie season because of a knee injury suffered during a training-camp practice. He emerged as the starting running back late in his second season, but he struggled early in 2015 as he tried to play through ankle problems. Only a Week 7 bye allowed him adequate rest to recapture his form down the stretch.
In answering one question Tuesday, Anderson recited that litany of issues that kept him out for 22 of a possible 64 regular-season games. Nothing was as costly as the torn meniscus, which kept him out for the final nine games last year.
Head Coach Vance Joseph conducted his first on-field practice with the Broncos on Tuesday on the first day of the team's voluntary veteran minicamp. (photos by Gabriel Christus)
"I make a routine cut -- the same cut I'm going to make a thousand times after I've healed up, the same cut I made a thousand times before I got hurt," Anderson said. "It was just a routine cut, and that's the frustrating part about it, when it's something that you do every day that's routine, you try to just figure out what to change -- but you still don't change [anything]."
The nature of his injury and the grind of rehabilitation gnawed at Anderson, who could only watch helplessly as the Broncos' running game struggled and then collapsed without him.
With Anderson in the lineup last year, the Broncos averaged 4.1 yards per carry, 111.6 rushing yards per game and moved the chains once every 4.2 carries. After his season eneded, they mustered just 3.2 yards per carry, 78.1 rushing yards per game and picked up a first down just once every 7.1 attempts. The offense became imbalanced, and its output dropped by 5.0 points per game in his absence.
Other issues contributed to the offensive struggles last year. But Anderson's injury was a blow from which the unit never fully recovered.
Now he returns to an overhauled offense with new sideline leadership. But the scheme has some familiar concepts and should accentuate his strengths inside and in the open field.
Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy designed the offense that was in place when Anderson joined the Broncos in 2013. McCoy's successor, Adam Gase, built on the scheme's foundation during Anderson's first two seasons, when he averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
"[There is] a lot of crossover, a lot of similar stuff," Anderson said. "Definitely some different tweaks; me and [McCoy] had a conversation today about some things, the difference between why he does certain things and why 'Goose' [Gase] did it another way. It's just good to hear this philosophy.
"It's fun, and I'm excited."