For Anderson, 2nd fiddle doesn't hit sour note

The Baltimore Sun

Ravens reserve running back Mike Anderson doesn't mind waiting, waiting and waiting.

Last year, he was behind starter Jamal Lewis. This time, he's No. 2 behind Willis McGahee. But when he gets his opportunity, the Ravens can rest assured they'll get his best.

"Every day I come out here, I'm excited to be here, excited to practice," Anderson said. "If he [coach Brian Billick] calls me off the bench, he doesn't have to worry. I'll be ready."

Anderson, 33, is an aberration in the National Football League. He's the ultimate team guy. He doesn't complain about playing time. He doesn't whine about practice. There is no jealousy of the starters in front of him, and no envy of guys who have lucrative contracts.

Everything is about team.

It's a refreshing approach, one that seems to have died, but one that Anderson learned long ago coming out of Fairfield Central High in South Carolina when he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Anderson was stationed in Oceanside, Calif., but did a six-month tour on a ship outside of Somalia.

"In the Marines, you're taught to follow orders, not question them," Anderson said. "It creates a lot of faith and discipline in what you're doing. To me, I see things differently than a lot of other people."

We've seen flashes of Anderson coming off the bench. He's a north and south runner. It's basically one cut and gone. Against the New York Giants on Sunday night, Anderson had 37 yards on three carries. At times, he has looked like he did when he was with Denver rushing for more than 1,000 yards a season.

But it's only been spot duty here in Baltimore because Anderson can't make it off the bench. And he's not about to complain.

"It's about being a team," Anderson said. "We don't play a sport where it's everybody for themselves. It kind of comes out that way at the end of the day in this league, but the teams that get to the Super Bowl play together as a team, and stick together as a team."

Don't get the impression that Anderson doesn't want to play. That's far from the truth. He's an extremely competitive player. But he understands and accepts his role. On some days, Anderson might be McGahee's primary backup, or he could come in as a third-down specialist.

Either way, Anderson is ready. This is his second year in the Ravens' offense, and he is familiar with the terminology.

"I had to get used to the way they block things up front," Anderson said. "In this league, that's the way it is all around is to have a downhill running game. Once you've been in the league for a while, you get the basics down and how they do it. They all have certain plays, some of them the same, but some might want it done this way as opposed to another way."

Anderson's career got off to a great start in Denver. He was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2000, rushing for 1,487 yards on 297 carries. He had 678 yards in 2001, and became Clinton Portis's blocking back in 2002 and 2003, and Portis rushed for more than 1,500 yards in each of those seasons. But in the fourth preseason game of 2004, Anderson tore two muscles in his groin and was placed on injured reserve for the season.

It was tough coming back.

"I think the hardest part was just people counting me out, people saying I couldn't make it back," Anderson said. "I was just determined, wanted to get back on the field. I didn't want that play to be my last play, I didn't want people remembering me going out that way."

Anderson rebounded with 1,014 yards on 239 carries with 12 touchdowns in 2005, but became a salary cap casualty for Denver along with current Ravens defensive tackle Trevor Pryce. Anderson signed with the Ravens on March 14, 2006 in anticipation of being the starting running back, but the Ravens re-signed Lewis a day later.

Anderson had only 183 yards on 39 carries last season. A lot of others would have complained or been bitter. But Anderson has never mumbled one harsh word about the Ravens organization.

"In my mind, I view it my way instead of the way others would look at it," Anderson said. "I'm just happy to have this opportunity, to still be able to play this game. My body is healthy, and the fire is still there. Believe me, the hunger is still there."

The Ravens know that. They also know that a good team needs two good running backs to get through the season. Anderson's experience is priceless in the postseason.

"Mike is a great zone runner," Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel said. "He reads those blocks. His time in Denver was obviously very, very productive. He's a proven veteran, so I think any time you've got guys like him on your roster, you're going to benefit from it."

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