Scott Fowler

New Carolina Panthers RB C.J. Anderson makes a heavy bet on himself for 2018

CJ Anderson looking to grow his game during Panthers' OTAs

Carolina Panthers new running back C.J. Anderson plans to use organized team activities to get used to his new team and improve his game during OTA sessions.
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Carolina Panthers new running back C.J. Anderson plans to use organized team activities to get used to his new team and improve his game during OTA sessions.

C.J. Anderson is gearing up for practice this spring like he forgot he plays for the Carolina Panthers instead of the Denver Broncos.

Long-sleeved shirts. Long pants. A hoodie. A jersey.

“I’ve always been in sweats and a hoodie since I came in my rookie year,” Anderson said this week. “That’s just how I practice. You practice heavy — and then you play light.”

It makes sense in the same way that some athletes wear ankle weights during workouts or swing two bats in the on-deck circle. But what about at Wofford College in August, where the Panthers training camp in Spartanburg often features “90-90” days (90 degrees, 90 percent humidity)?

“Whether it’s 105 degrees or negative-3, I’m going to be like this the whole time,” Anderson said, motioning to his layers of clothing after a Panthers OTA practice Tuesday. “I’m not going to change what I do and how I do it.”

That’s what the Panthers are counting on with Anderson, a post-draft veteran addition to the team who should make an immediate impact. This is a guy who is healthy, only 27 years old and just ran for 1,007 yards in 2017 for Denver.

I still don’t quite understand how Carolina got Anderson for such a team-friendly price. A source told the Observer that Anderson signed a one-year deal for $1.7 million (plus a possible $800,000 more in incentives). Jonathan Stewart, by contrast, made about $4.2 million in 2017 for the Panthers while rushing for 680 yards.

Anderson doesn’t quite understand it, either.

“Don’t ask me,” Anderson said. “I don’t know. Ask 32 teams.”

Former Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson rushed for 1,007 yards in 2017, more than any returning Carolina Panther. Jack Dempsey AP Photo

The Broncos cut Anderson in mid-April, saving themselves about $4.5 million against this year’s salary cap, reportedly after trying to trade him first. About a half-dozen teams showed some interest but many of them ended up choosing cheaper running backs in the NFL draft. With his options dwindling, Anderson decided to sign the one-year deal the Panthers offered with the idea that another strong season will increase his value in the 2019 offseason.

“I should be in my prime,” Anderson said. “I think I have an opportunity to do something really special here. I asked for the one-year deal. I want to prove myself that I can still play this game at a high level.”

The Panthers hope Anderson can assume a similar role to Stewart, although he will need to beat out Cameron Artis-Payne to get the carries to do so.

“He’s a very good runner with good vision,” Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said of Anderson. “He is a very good pass protector and he can be a factor in the passing game. He’s a downhill runner. ... He’s got the ability to get that extra yard or two. … And he can move a pile.”

With Anderson running mostly inside and Christian McCaffrey scooting around in space, the Panthers hope to have a 1-2 punch that complements what new offensive coordinator Norv Turner will try to implement in the passing game with Cam Newton.

“We’ve got so many weapons,” Anderson said, “that I think we’ll be hard to prepare for.”

Anderson was a big part of the Denver Broncos’ 24-10 upset victory in the Super Bowl over Carolina on Feb. 7, 2016. Anderson rushed 23 times for 90 yards in that game and also scored the clinching touchdown on a 2-yard burst late in the fourth quarter. He had at least twice as many yards as every Panthers running back that day (Stewart ran 12 times for 29 yards).

Former Broncos running back C.J. Anderson (22) ran for 90 yards and a touchdown in Denver's 24-10 win over Carolina on Feb. 7, 2016, in Super Bowl 50. JEFF SINER

Anderson was an undrafted free agent out of Cal when he made the Broncos for the first time in 2013. In some ways, he feels like this season could be a little bit like that one — a new team, a new division and a whole new fan base that he will need to prove himself to.

No problem, Anderson said. “I was undrafted, so I’ve been betting on myself since I’ve been here. ... You’ve got to earn the respect of your teammates, which is just learning the playbook, working hard and keeping your mouth shut.”

But Anderson’s confidence appears to have been unshaken by the Broncos releasing him.

“The 1,000 yards?” Anderson said, referring to last season. “That was just a start.”