ZAIRE’S BIG IMPACT
Special-teams player is ... special
Z aire Anderson hits hard. The Broncos’ second-year inside linebacker honed his NFL skills on Denver’s practice squad last season. And this year, it’s like he shot out of a cannon.
As a special-teams player, Anderson made his mark among a group of first string-worthy linebackers behind starters Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis. With Marshall ruled out of Sunday’s game (hamstring injury) and Davis questionable (rib), the Broncos may need Anderson to step up even more.
The former Nebraska standout — one of three on the Broncos’ roster, along with rookie fullback Andy Janovich and veteran defensive end Jared Crick — signed as a college free agent last year. He has played in every game for the Broncos this season, making 14 tackles. The 5-foot-11 linebacker is built like a block and can tackle with a strong thud.
Anderson talked last week about his path from junior college to the Big Ten to the NFL — and about the unique view he brings to the Denver defense. Q: Don’t tell Andy Janovich or Jared Crick, but I was saving the best Nebraska player for last with this Q&A. A: We’re the best college in America. Q: Huskers fans really do turn out in Denver. A: There are a lot of Nebraska fans here. I noticed it right away. Last year when I was on the practice squad, every week I’d go to a Nebraska bar to watch the game. It’s real cool. Q: You were the first Nebraska player from Philadelphia since 1999. How did you end up in Lincoln? A: I went to a two-year school in California: Riverside City College. The receivers coach at Nebraska then, Rich Fisher, was real tight with an assistant coach at Riverside, a Colorado guy actually, Darrin Chiaverini. That’s how I ended up at Nebraska. Q: That Riverside team you were on was awesome. A: We only lost one game in two years. We had a lot of good players. I think we were ranked No. 1 in the nation that year. Q: You ended up crisscrossing the country on your way to the NFL. A: The transition from Philadelphia to California was the hardest for me. Because it’s so diverse in Riverside. Where I’m from in Philadelphia, I was a minority. Where I lived in California was more diverse: Mexicans, Asians, whites, blacks. It was different. I used to hate going home to Philly sometimes because the flight was, like, seven hours. I’d rather just stay. Q: Was the jump from college football to the NFL tough? A: Mentally it was. Q: I’m sure you wanted to play right away, but the practice squad can really help with that transition. A: Oh, yeah. Especially with confidence. Going against the ones every day, against the first team, it builds your confidence up. When you first come into the league, you think, “Am I good enough to play in this league?” There are lot of guys here who are big and fast. But once I played on the practice squad a whole year, it got my confidence up, going against Peyton, Brock. It helped a lot. Q: Coming into this year then, you climbed right up. A: Yeah, I had some momentum. I wasn’t as nervous; I was more calm. And I knew about the speed of the game. I think I’m building. I’m still working, but I’m getting repetitions. Q: You don’t seem to have a problem facing bigger backs and linemen. A: I’m slippery. It’s hard for them to try to block me, because I’m short. And against bigger running backs, it’s easier for me, because I’m already under them. The leverage I have helps me a lot. I use my size. When linemen try to get me, I just dodge out of the way. Q: Will it be difficult having two new starting inside linebackers Sunday if Todd Davis can’t play? A: Not really. Corey and me always play together anyway. It’s easy for us. It might be harder for Todd and Corey or Todd and me, because Corey and I have that communication already. Because we always line up with each other. Corey Nelson cuts in and pulls Anderson away for a specialteams meeting. Nelson: C’mon, Z. It’s kickoffreturn time, Z.
Zaire Anderson recovers a fumble by the Cardinals during the Broncos’ preseason finale in Glendale, Ariz., on Sept. 1. “The leverage I have helps me a lot,” he says. John Leyba, The Denver Post