The Broncos' third-year running back predicts — not smugly but almost sheepishly — that he'll surpass Hillman and unseat Anderson, whose spectacular second half of 2014 earned him a Pro Bowl berth and the Broncos' starting tailback job.
"C.J. deserves the No. 1 spot right now. I'm most definitely going to try to work to get it back. And I believe that I will," Ball told The Associated Press during a break at minicamp this week. "I like coming in and being the underdog, just keeping my head down, my mouth shut and just working."
The clear-cut starter a year ago at this time after rushing for a 4.7-yard average his rookie year, Ball never regained his explosiveness or his starting job after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in August.
Ball blames the three-week layoff for weakening his core, which he believes in turn led to the torn right groin that landed him on injured reserve, limiting him to a paltry 172 yards on 55 carries for a 3.1-yard average and a single TD in 2014.
"I went back out there and it was just all downhill from there because I believe by having a weak core from having the surgery and not being able to work out my core for a good three weeks everything just lost its balance and my groin went out," Ball said. "I'm not blaming anyone because I looked them in the face and said, 'I feel great. I feel 100 percent.'"
Anderson starts the offseason as the starter, and it's his job to lose, but he's one of the riskier running backs currently going in the first three rounds due to his "half-year wonder" status and the presence of Hillman and Ball.
Broncos RB C.J. Anderson earned his place on the first team with a performance in the second half of the season that was more productive than all but one other running back in that span.When offseason workouts start, he will remain atop the depth chart at running back -- but only if he can maintain his performance and diligence.
"He made a big jump as a player, and I think he's earned the right to walk in to the offseason program -- the OTAs -- and line up as our starter," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "But he's got to continue to earn it on a daily basis... I think he's shown he has all the ability to be an excellent starter in this league, so we're really looking forward to working with him."
But he will return to find his predecessors at running back at full strength. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman have recovered from groin and foot injuries, respectively, and will factor into the scramble for carries.
"All those guys are young. I think all three of those guys ... have all kind of had their little spurts of success with the club when they've had their opportunity," Kubiak said. "But they're all young. Who's going to be the bell cow, who's going to play every down, who's going to be the three-down player, they've got to sort that out. C.J. has shown the flashes of doing that... We'll give them all a chance and see how it pans out, but C.J. obviously has a good head start on things," Kubiak said.
The competition could be fierce, but Anderson's success last year and his ability to translate that to a zone-blocking scheme gives him the early lead.
"All good players fit your system, and he's a good player," Kubiak said. "So we've got some good young backs, and it's going to be very competitive from that standpoint, but, yeah, he's proven that running zone schemes and doing those types of things seem to fit him very well."
Anderson began to see starter-type touches in Week 10 with 17 touches for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. Over the final eight weeks, he averaged 24.0 touches for 132 yards and 1.3 TD, and was the #1 RB in that span. If the Broncos commit to Anderson (and why wouldn’t they?), he should thrive under Kubiak, who just coaxed a career year out of journeyman Justin Forsett.
By season's end, Anderson was a Pro Bowler. But Anderson started the final eight games with John Fox as head coach. Gary Kubiak is the Broncos' coach now.
"He's got to go earn that," Kubiak said. "When he walked off the field last year he was playing that way. He's a young player. I told him that when I talked to him. I said, "C.J. when you come back for the offseason you need to handle yourself like you're the starter. ... I think he's ready to do that."
This is a common motivational tactic that coaches use with young, less-established players, but Anderson should be the team's RB1 in 2015 provided he doesn't report to OTAs out of shape. He began to see starter-type touches in Week 10 with 17 touches for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. Over the final eight weeks, he averaged 24.0 touches for 132 yards and 1.3 TD, and was the #1 RB in that span. If the Broncos commit to Anderson, he should thrive under new Kubiak, who just coaxed a career year out of journeyman Justin Forsett. Provided QB Peyton Manning returns for another season, Anderson’s production should continue.
Broncos RB C.J. Anderson did enough behind an offensive line that struggled mightily at times in an offense that couldn't find its rhythm over the season's final month to open the offseason as the starter. What happens next, however, will be a test of his football maturity as well as his preparation given success can often be more difficult for some to handle than adversity. Montee Ball, too, has promised to return "ready to win the job." Ronnie Hillman has plenty of untapped potential as well, even as the Broncos keep waiting for the career light to go on with their former third-round pick. They thought it had when Hillman had two 100-yard games in a three-week span in October only to have his season derailed by a foot injury.
Anderson probably holds the most risk of the top 12 running backs heading into the offseason. He was tremendous down the stretch, but there's a new regime in town (though he's considered to be a good fit for new HC Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking attack). Remember, he didn't keep himself in top physical condition last offseason, so that's something to monitor this spring and summer.
Friday, December 26, 2014, 6:53pm
Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot, probable) took full practice reps all week and is probable for Week 17. Hillman should return this week, but he’s likely to serve as the change-of-pace back to C.J. Anderson, who has been a revelation after taking over as the team’s primary back. Anderson is a very strong start against a shaky Oakland rush defense.
Both Peyton Manning (thigh) and Emmanual Sanders (illness) were questionable coming into this game, but reports all week said there was little doubt both would play and both are indeed active and can be safely started for Week 16. Ronnie Hillman is inactive meaning C.J. Anderson will again carry the load in what is a great matchup on paper.
Christopher Clark (T, back), Cortrelle Anderson (RB, ankle), Cody Latimer (WR, concussion), Jacob Tamme (TE, ribs), Demaryius Thomas (WR, ankle), Julius Thomas (TE, ankle), Will Montgomery (C, knee).
Paul Cornick (T, toe), Brandon Marshall (LB, foot).
Brandon Tate (WR, illness), Jermaine Gresham (TE, toe), Margus Hunt (DE, ankle), Terence Newman (CB, ankle), Mike Pollak (G, knee), Carlos Dunlap (DE, calf), D'Andre Kirkpatrick (CB, Achillies).
QB A.J. McCarron (illness)
Emmanuel Lamur (LB, hamstring), James Wright (WR, knee).
Friday, December 19, 2014, 6:02pm
Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot) took limited practice reps again Friday.
Thursday, December 18, 2014, 6:14pm
Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot) took limited practice reps Thursday.
Montee Ball's season has come to an end.
The Denver Broncos placed the running back on season-ending injured reserve, the team announced Saturday.
Ball entered the season as the Broncos' No. 1 tailback after the team let Knowshon Moreno walk in the offseason. However, the 24-year-old has suffered an injury-riddled season after amassing 559 yards on 120 carries his rookie year.
Ball underwent an emergency appendectomy following Denver's first preseason game. After starting the first three regular-season games Ball suffered a groin injury in Week 5. Upon returning in Week 11, Ball re-aggravated the injury on just his fourth snap of the game.
Friday, December 12, 2014, 6:26pm
Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot, questionable) took limited practice reps all week and is questionable for Week 15. Hillman’s return shouldn’t threaten C.J. Anderson’s status as the team’s primary running back.
Broncos beat writer Jeff Legwold describes how C.J. Anderson took over the RB1 job:
There are times in an NFL life when availability tips the scales. When the injuries mowed through the depth chart at running back, Anderson was available. Montee Ball missed eight games and most of another with a right groin injury, while Ronnie Hillman missed four games with a left foot injury. And with that Anderson became the guy. As a runner, the Broncos have always liked his potential, but he arrived to offseason workouts and minicamp too heavy, looked sluggish and at the time looked to be a guy who would not make the 53-man roster. But when training camp rolled around, he arrived lighter and quicker. In this offense, pass protection determines how often you get to carry the ball. Peyton Manning trusts Anderson's work there, and he has shown reliable hands as a receiver. As a runner he has good lower-body power and he runs heavy, with leverage, so he usually runs through the first tackle. He's also shown the good mix of patience with his blockers and decisiveness once he sees the crease. The Broncos believed he could contribute before, but Anderson wrestled the job away from the others. If he maintains his current work ethic and results, he's their No. 1 guy.
Anderson may continue to be the team's starter for the 2015 season and beyond, so in addition to being a redraft RB1, he holds significant keeper and dynasty league value.
Thursday, December 11, 2014, 6:32pm
Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot) took limited practice reps again Thursday. Hillman’s return shouldn’t threaten C.J. Anderson’s status as the team’s primary running back.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014, 6:25pm
Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot) took limited practice reps Wednesday. Keep an eye on C.J. Anderson’s status — he’s expected to play, but Hillman could be thrust into a role if Anderson can’t go.
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