He was on a family vacation a week and a half ago. Eight days ago, he was signing a contract with the Bills. Four days ago, he was watching and trying to help Josh Allen against the Houston Texans. In three days he’ll be the starting quarterback for Buffalo in Indianapolis.
None of it surprises Derek Anderson. Thirteen years in the NFL has exposed him to just about everything. That exposure is also what got him the nod from head coach Sean McDermott to start Sunday’s game against the Colts.
“Derek is a guy that I’ve been around in Carolina. He brings experience, leadership presence to the table, and he’s worked hard in the last week or two, week and a half here to get himself up to speed,” McDermott said.
Anderson has been living in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s playbook for almost every waking hour since signing on Oct. 9th. He also knows he’s coming in without the benefit of an offseason conditioning program or the few thousand on field reps he would’ve had if he was with the team through the spring and summer.
Even for a veteran like himself, who has worked under Daboll before, he knows the task this week is sizable.
“Physically I feel good,” he said. “Last week I pushed myself pretty good through the week. I knew where I was at and I knew what I was doing. I ran pretty hard Sunday, did all my normal stuff. I felt good on Sunday. (Wednesday) I felt good. The legs feel good. The arm feels good. Mentally we’re working on putting a lot of hours in just trying to catch up with these guys. They’ve been together and been doing things since April. It’s my job to do what I can to catch up to where they’re at.”
Anderson asked several of his skill position teammates after practice Wednesday to spend an extra 15 minutes repeating some plays that are likely in this week’s game plan with him and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
“I asked the guys if they would hang and asked Brian if he would let me just get some extra things done,” Anderson said. “The more work we can get, even if it’s just walking and talking and those guys are walking through the plays to see where they’re going to be (it’s helpful).”
“He’s a veteran. He’s used to this, stepping in and playing,” said LeSean McCoy. “We’ve just got to help him out at the skill positions, run the ball well, play good defense, good special teams. He’s new here so we’ve just got to help him out. There’s no time to pout or make excuses. We’ve just got to find a way to get it done whether it’s Josh, Nate or Derek, we’ve got a job to do. That’s to produce on offense.”
Anderson worked under Daboll previously and made seven starts for him in 2009 when Daboll was his coordinator in Cleveland. A good deal has changed in Daboll’s offense however, so he’s still trying to master the language.
“I’m not a rocket scientist, but I’m pretty smart,” said Anderson. “The biggest thing for me is being able to talk with the guys terminology-wise, because the terminology I had the first time (in 2009 with Daboll) has changed a bit. But I’ve been studying like crazy since I got here last week, just to make sure that I can talk to Josh during the games and he knows what I’m talking about. Obviously, all the work I put in last week, that helps this week. We’re getting there.”
Between Wednesday’s initial install of the game plan at practice to Saturday night meetings in Indianapolis there will be a steady dialogue between Anderson and Daboll on the plays with which Anderson feels most comfortable. The veteran QB hasn’t been shy with his coordinator in telling him what he likes and what he doesn’t thus far.
“I told him, ‘If I can’t see the picture in my brain when I say it, it’s not in (the game plan),’” said Anderson. “I see a picture overlay on the field. I see a visual. If I can’t see the picture I’m just going to tell him, ‘I don’t feel good on that.’ And he’s okay with that. Obviously, we’re going to have to work through that as we go.”
Daboll explained that with Anderson the task is to master this week’s game plan only. The entire playbook is something they’ll chip away at a bit at a time on off days. The main priority is to be ready on Sunday.
“I don’t think you can put the whole thing on him,” said Daboll. “He’s played a long time, so concepts are concepts. It’s understanding the language. He’s grinding it out.”
As hard at work as he’s been with the Bills playbook, Anderson, though pointed with his teammates, keeps things light on the practice field and in the meeting rooms. It’s why the game is still fun for him at age 35. That’s been eye-opening for Buffalo’s rookie quarterback to witness over the past week-plus.
“He demands a lot from the players,” said Josh Allen. “Just seeing how he talks to them, little tidbits and reminders he gives them before going out. Something that I haven’t really been around. To see that coming from a guy who has been in the league a long time, it’s very helpful for me.
“But he tends to keep it light, not just on the field, but in the meeting rooms and outside, sitting down and having lunch together. Just kind of seeing how much fun he has when he’s out here. He’s been in the league this long and he’s still coming out to the field and having a great time. That’s instrumental for me to see.”
As much as Anderson wants to help Allen, the priority now is to help himself. There will be time to provide tips and pointers to the young quarterback when he’s healthy again. With time not on his side, Anderson must narrow his focus, so he can be the best quarterback possible under some challenging circumstances.
“Fortunately, I’ve seen all sides of the situation. I’ve seen the good. I’ve seen the bad and I’ve seen the ugly,” said Anderson. “I’m just going to be myself. I like to have fun. It’s a game and I’m going to go out there and I’m going to enjoy it. Yeah, we’re going to have some mistakes. Obviously, we’re going to try to minimize them as much as we can. Make sure our communication throughout the week is excellent. There is going to be a lot of talking and walking. This is how I see this route or this play, just making sure those things are communicated before Sunday.”
The Bills reached out to Anderson back in the spring when they began their search for a veteran quarterback for their roster. For Anderson the timing wasn’t right. When GM Brandon Beane made contact again a couple of weeks ago, it still required some considerable thought on Anderson’s part.
He knew the value of the time he missed, and the challenge he would be up against mentally walking in the door. Just eight days after signing the challenge became even more demanding.
“It’s not exactly how I saw it happening. I’m not going to lie to you,” he said of his impending start on Sunday. “(Before signing) I talked with my friends and my wife and I was asked, ‘Do you really want to do it?’ I even asked myself, ‘Do I really want to do it?’ And I told coach, ‘If I’m going to do it, I’m fully committed to it.’ And that’s why I came here.”
That commitment will be carrying a lot more weight than perhaps anyone anticipated on Sunday.