ENGLEWOOD, Colorado — Denver's receivers are fond of saying that there are no go-to guys among the Broncos pass-catchers. With Peyton Manning delivering the football, any game could be anybody's day.
Thanks to C.J. Anderson, the Broncos running backs can say the same thing.
The second-year undrafted tailback from Cal broke free for a career-best 163 yards from scrimmage in Denver's 41-17 rout at Oakland on Sunday. His 51-yard touchdown on a screen pass broke the game open for the slow-starting Broncos (7-2).
"I feel like we've got five backs on the active roster that if they all have their opportunity, they'll go out there and do their thing," Anderson said Monday. "There's opportunities out there for everybody and I took advantage of mine yesterday."
Coach John Fox said Anderson's breakout performance "speaks to the depth we have. We've been pretty fortunate to have some guys stepping in and doing a good job. I think it's a tribute to those guys being on top of their craft."
As for carving himself a bigger role in the offense, Anderson said: "I just stay in my lane. If they decide to make my role bigger, then I'm going to go out there and play."
The tailback turnstile promises to keep right on turning this week: starter Ronnie Hillman is expected to miss two to three weeks with a sprained left foot, and Montee Ball is expected back after missing five games with a torn right groin.
When Ball returned to practice last week, he said he realized Hillman had taken his job and he'd have to fight to get it back. Now, it looks like he might have to leapfrog Anderson, too. Then, there are rookies Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs, both of whom also figure to be active when the Broncos visit the St. Louis Rams (6-3) Sunday.
"All five of us prepare like we're going to start that day because you just never know what's going to happen," said Anderson, who ran for 90 yards on 13 carries and caught four passes for 73 yards Sunday.
Anderson's first career touchdown came on what started out as a sack-avoiding toss from Manning. Anderson snared it with his right hand and broke a tackle from Miles Burris in the backfield before stiff-arming Khalil Mack and breaking a tackle by Charles Woodson. He reversed field and weaved his way behind big blocks from Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas for the score.
The TD propelled the Broncos to 35 unanswered points.
Anderson grew up a Raiders fan in nearby Vallejo, California, and attended a dozen games at a kid.
"I got to see Tyrone Wheatley make plays, Charlie Garner, Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown. I got to see them make plays," Anderson said. "It was just good to be on the same field they played on and have a big game."
Anderson's rookie season consisted of just 38 yards rushing in five games after missing the first half of the season with a knee injury. His first career catch was a 14-yarder in the Super Bowl.
He packed on the pounds in the offseason, going from 220 to 237, way too much for his 5-foot-8 frame.
"The reason for bulking up was just being lazy in the offseason," Anderson said.
He incurred the wrath of his position coach, Eric Studesville and others.
"Him, John Fox, Adam Gase, they were all angry at me," Anderson said. "I knew I would lose it. It's kind of been a pattern of mine: come in heavy and then when things are about to get real, get ready to go. I won't put myself in that position this year, I promise that."
Anderson kept the football from his first career TD, but it won't end up on his own mantle.
He said he's going to give it to his mother, Neva Craig, who raised three boys in a tough neighborhood while working as an elementary school lunch lady.
"My mom and my grandma were just in tears" Sunday, Anderson said. "Those are the two women that raised me. Just growing up in the neighborhood we grew up, it's just amazing I could go out there and do that in front of them."
He said his mother "is my biggest fan and my biggest critic. She'll tell me, 'On that run you didn't run hard enough or you should have made this cut.'"
Her advice Sunday night was simple, Anderson said: "She just told me, 'We're not done. Just stay humbled. Keep your head down and let's be consistent. You put your foot in the door, but now let's walk through the door.'"
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