If Derek Anderson is at all nervous about making his first NFL start in nearly two years Sunday, the newest Buffalo Bills’ quarterback did a good job masking it Wednesday.
In his first press conference after being named the starter by coach Sean McDermott, Anderson was at ease, cracking jokes with reporters.
Asked if his job is made easier by having a running back like LeSean McCoy, Anderson shot back: “Is he good? I’m not sure.”
Asked about putting in extra work following practice with his receivers, Anderson said “You didn’t videotape those, right? Thank you.”
Asked how much of the offense he can realistically be expected to know by Sunday, Anderson offered up “I’m not a rocket scientist, but I’m pretty smart.”
“These guys are just getting to know me, but I’m going to be myself. I like to have fun,” he said. “It’s a game. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to enjoy it.”
Of course, the Bills’ quarterback situation has been no laughing matter. With rookie Josh Allen shelved for the time being because of a sprained elbow, coach Sean McDermott had to decide between Anderson and second-year veteran Nathan Peterman as his starter. Peterman relieved Allen in Week 6 at Houston, but threw the game-deciding pick-six.
McDermott said that was “one piece” of his evaluation, but that going with Anderson is the “right decision for our football team right now.”
“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 last started a game for the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 4, 2016. His first pass attempt went off running back Mike Tolbert’s hands and was intercepted, setting up a Seahawks field goal. Cam Newton, who did not start because of a disciplinary situation, was in for Carolina’s next series. Anderson last started and finished a game on Oct. 10, 2016 against Tampa Bay.
Less than two weeks ago, his job was being a dad to three kids — ages 4, 3 and 1. Now, it’s one of 32 positions in the world — that of a starting NFL quarterback.
“It's football,” Anderson said. “You know, things that happen in this game never amaze me. You've just got to be ready at all times. I was fully aware of what I was getting myself into coming here. Obviously not ideal, but you know, we're going to do what we can.”
When he signed last week, McDermott described Anderson’s role as that as primarily a mentor for Allen. One injury and the latest Peterman meltdown quickly changed that.
“It's not exactly how I saw it happening,” Anderson said of being thrust into the lineup so quickly. “I'm not going to lie to you, but I mean, I talked with my friends, my wife. … I told coach, ‘If I'm going to do it, I'm fully committed to it,’ and that's why I came here.”
As a 14-year veteran, Anderson has been around football enough to learn a game plan on the fly. But there is a legitimate question to be asked about whether he’s physically ready to handle an entire game. That’s something McDermott cleared with the team’s training staff.
“Physically I feel good,” Anderson said Wednesday. “Last week I pushed myself quite a bit just to kind of see where I was at. I mean, I knew where I was at. I know what I was doing. But pushed myself pretty good through the week, ran pretty hard Sunday. Did all my normal stuff. Felt good on Sunday, today I felt good. Legs feel good, arm feels good.
"Mentally, we're working on it, putting a lot of hours in, just trying to catch up with these guys. They've obviously been together and been doing it since April. It's my job to do what I can to catch up to where they're at.”
Anderson does have some familiarity with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system, having played for him with Cleveland in 2009. That was nearly a decade ago, though, and the terminology has changed.
“I told him if I can't see the picture in my brain when I say it, it's not in,” Anderson said of getting comfortable with the playbook in time for Sunday. “If I can't see it, I can't see the picture, I'm not comfortable with it, I'm just going to tell him, ‘Hey, I don't feel good on that.’ He's ok with that. Obviously we're going to have to work through that as we go.”
"I think we'll have a good plan. I feel good about the things we had in today. Football is football to me. You're out here with your guys. My comfort level with those guys will be good by Sunday.”
McDermott informed his quarterbacks of the decision to start Anderson on Tuesday. He will be the team’s third starter in the first seven weeks of the season — the only team in the NFL to need that many.
"He’s a veteran and I’m sure he’s used to this, stepping in to play,” McCoy said. “We just have to help him out at the skill positions, run the ball well, play good defense, good special teams. He’s new here so we just need to help him out.”