DENVER –If you pull up a defensive highlight from one of the Broncos' first two preseason games, chances are that you'll find linebacker Zaire Anderson around the ball.* *
A week after recovering a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against Chicago, the first-year player tacked on two more big plays against San Francisco to his resume.
His success began late in in the second quarter, just moments after a Mark Sanchez fumble inside the 49ers' red zone. Anderson ripped the ball out of Mike Davis' hand and defensive end Billy Winn recovered.
Anderson got Davis again in the third quarter when he took the ball away after a five-yard carry. Rookie Adam Gotsis jumped on the ball, and the Broncos took over with good field position.
The Nebraska product finds himself in a crowded rotation at inside linebacker behind Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis and alongside Corey Nelson. When Nelson left the game in the second quarter with a right wrist injury, Anderson found himself in an unfamiliar position. His partner at inside backer was sidelined and replaced by rookie Dwayne Norman. That meant a change in communication for Anderson.
"We've got a bond," Anderson said. "So it was kind of weird not having him out there, 'cause we've got chemistry already."
It did not, however, mean a change in production.
Anderson's two forced fumbles came after Nelson left the game and at a point in the game when Marshall said the Broncos "were down."
"Zaire, he's a great player," Marshall said. "Zaire can play. He brought some juice to the team. He brought a much-needed boost."
Anderson's path to a backup role with the Broncos led him through Riverside (Calif.) City College to the University of Nebraska, where he started 18 games in three seasons. After playing in all four of the Broncos' preseason games in 2015, he spent the season on the practice squad learning from the Broncos' core of inside linebackers.
Now that he has an opportunity to crack the 53-man roster and play an important role for the team in 2016, Anderson said he's determined to continue his string of solid play.
"It's important to me just because I want to show the organization and the people upstairs that I can play," Anderson said, "and I can be a guy they can count on this year."
After the game, Head Coach Gary Kubiak suggested that Anderson's performance was not going unnoticed by the coaching staff.
"Yeah, Zaire's had a good camp," Kubiak said. "He's becoming a good player, got a good grasp of what we're doing. I've got to go back and look at the game, but obviously he got some extensive time tonight against a tough scheme to work against. I'll go back and look, but he's been doing some good stuff."
Through the first two games, Anderson has recorded four tackles, a quarterback hit, a pass deflection, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. His tackle total isn't other-worldly for an inside linebacker, but his knack for the big play has left the other players in his position group impressed.
"He's always around the ball," Marshall said. "He has great instincts. He can play the game of football."
Anderson has made the most of his first two opportunities to prove his abilities. Two more opportunities remain.
Then the games really begin.