The Denver Post - - NFL SUNDAY - By Nick Groke with line­backer Zaire An­der­son

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

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