By Michael Stets
ALLEN PARK – After signing with the Detroit Lions on a one-year deal in April, veteran running back C.J. Anderson finds himself with his fourth team since the start of the 2018 season.
Anderson, now entering his seventh year in the league, played his first five seasons in Denver. He began last season with the Carolina Panthers before being released in November. He then signed with the Oakland Raiders in December, but was released less than a week later. In Week 16, Anderson caught on with the Los Angeles Rams and filled in nicely for the injured Todd Gurley to close out the regular season, staying put throughout the Rams’ playoff run.
Yes, he certainly classifies as a journeyman with the Lions being his fifth team since joining the league in 2013, but that’s not what truly defines him, he says.
“I just think it’s not if I bounced around or have I been around, I think it’s the success I’ve had with different teams and different schemes,” Anderson told WJR after Day 2 of OTAs on Tuesday afternoon.
Anderson, 28, explained that he’s been able to share a lot of his knowledge with Lions new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and it’s been working out very well.
“[I’ve] just [been] giving my input,” he said. “The good thing is Bev [Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell] has been really receptive when it comes to like ‘Hey C.J., how did you do this?’ Or ‘Do you like it this way? If there is a way you like it and it makes sense to me, I can do it that way, too.’ That makes it pretty cool when you have an OC who takes the initiative and puts in the time and is playing with his vets like that.”
It’s not exactly a secret that Lions head coach Matt Patricia aspires to make running the football a priority in Detroit. And with Bevell having plenty of successful rushing seasons as an offensive coordinator – including four Top-10 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, and three with the Minnesota Vikings – it’s easy to surmise that even though today’s NFL is regarded as a passing league, the goal for the new Lions offense will likely be to emulate the 1992 Dallas Cowboys and pound the rock, more so than air it out like the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs.
That is music to Anderson’s ears.
“Yeah, you know, you got all these pass-happy offenses in the league these days,” said Anderson, who averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 11 games last season. “Having somebody a little bit old school, who understands the game and gets it from a 90s perspective, it’s pretty cool to see.”
He added: “Watching Bev from the outside when he was in Seattle. And obviously he had AP [Adrian Peterson} when he was young in his career. Obviously, he loves to run the football. And what he does as an OC in his philosophy and scheme, I think fits my style. It should be a fun year.”
The Lions’ rushing attack improved last season and they found their lead back in Kerryon Johnson, who looked great early and snapped the team’s dubious streak of not having a 100-yard rushing game since 2013. But when the 2018 second-round pick’s season was cut short due to injury after just 10 games, they didn’t have much else. With Anderson now in the fold, the Lions are aiming to get a change-of-pace battering ram to compliment Johnson, which is what they were hoping to get out of LeGarrette Blount last season, but Blount was a shell of his former self.
The 5-foot-8 Anderson, who is listed at 225 pounds on the roster sheet handed out to the media, wasn’t exactly hard to spot on the practice field among his teammates. His No.26 jersey rolled halfway up, revealing a bulky gray hoodie underneath. He told WJR he now weighs around 228 pounds. “I”ll be back at playing size when it’s time to go,” he said. “You know, last year when you are sitting around and bouncing around you don’t put as much effort into conditioning and stuff, especially when you get released Week 13, Week 14 when you think the season is over. Then I got a surprising call from the Rams and we had fun there.”
Anderson has proven time and again that his punishing running style combined with his size, makes him a handful to tackle, especially when he gets to the second level of a defense. In the two games he started for the Rams at the end of last season while filling in for Gurley, Anderson totaled 299 yards on 43 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns. And in the Rams’ first playoff game, even though Gurley had returned from injury, Rams head coach Sean McVay stuck with the hot hand and Anderson turned in a 123-yard, two-touchdown performance, which helped propel Los Angeles to the NFC Championship.
“I’m just a tough runner, a hard nose runner,” answered Anderson, when asked what he will bring to the Lions’ offense. “Trying to do everything I can. Just get first downs. Protect the passer. Do the job that’s asked of me.”
Anderson is a California native, but he has family on Detroit’s west side. He said he’s traveled to Detroit on several occasions to visit family dating back to when he was eight years old. The last time he was in Detroit, he said, was for his great grandmother’s funeral 10 years ago. Due to football obligations, he hasn’t quite settled in just yet and said he’s still looking for a home. But after a season that saw him wear three different uniforms, Anderson’s planning on having just one zip code in 2019.
“I’m not planning on getting cut. Not planning on bouncing around. I”m planning on making this home. And I should be back to the high level of play that people are used to seeing me play at.”
If Anderson performs like he did at the end of last season, and Johnson returns to form from injury, the Lions’ backfield will have a formidable one-two punch in 2019.