ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—Tuesday, I was greatly relieved to have tangible NFL information being discussed on NFL Network, especially since the Denver Broncos, who are conducting their Phase One mini-camp this week, were among the prominent subjects.
Afterwards, several Broncos players gave their thoughts to the media at the team's headquarters at Dove Valley, among them were a pair of receivers who have great expectations headed into 2015—Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer.
Sanders, who is entering his sixth year out of Southern Methodist, gave his thoughts on a litany of subjects, including getting familiar with a new offensive scheme, courtesy of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
“It feels good,” Sanders said. “Obviously a new offense, so a lot of thinking. I think we have the opportunity to be really successful in this system. We had a jog-thru tempo today, but it was more like full speed. It feels good when a coach tells you his afternoon practice we've got to slow it down a little bit.”
When asked whose fault it was that the fast pace occurred at the morning practice, Sanders stated, “I think it was a little bit of everybody, honestly. I think that emotions were flying high today. Guys were excited to be out here, and so was I. I had a go-ball one time and I ran full speed. I was like 'This is a jog thru tempo?’ I was having fun.”
Sanders talked about Dennison and Gary Kubiak’s unique offense and the differences between it and last year’s.
“Obviously I feel like we're going to have more of a balanced attack, more zone-blocking scheme running attack and more plays off the play action,” he said. “I think it's going to be really good for us – especially when we get (WR) Demaryius (Thomas) back—to have (QB) Peyton (Manning) faking like we are going to run the ball if we've got the run game going and hopefully hitting me and Demaryius for 18, 20-yard gains and sometimes deep balls.”
Perhaps Sanders' insinuation about the return of Thomas prompted the next topic of discussion, which was on how much his teammate is missing from not being at voluntary workouts. Sanders was circumspect and supportive of his teammate.
“That's the business side of it,” he said. “I think Demaryius is a sharp guy. I think he knows that he has to be off in his playbook. I think once he gets here and he gets that monkey off his back, that he is going to fit right in because he's been around this organization for a long time.”
With the Broncos learning a new system on both sides of the ball, the 2015 offseason presents more obstacles than in years past for the team, but not necessarily for Sanders, who had to learn a new offense last year and ended up producing a career season, even going to the Pro Bowl.
“My game didn't feel as sharp as it did last year because obviously I'm out there thinking,” he said, “but once you get the thinking out of the way, you can get comfortable in your own skin and get comfortable playing instead of just going out here and seeing dots on a piece of paper and trying to run it that way. You can add your spice to it.”
Sanders then talked about whether he likes having Manning back on the field, answering a no-brainer question regarding the quarterback who helped reignite Sanders’ career.
“Of course,” he said. “I hope he's here for a long time. I think he's still got a lot of juice left in him.”
With the changes in offensive scheme, some wonder if the Broncos receivers will see their numbers diminish from the stratospheric heights they reached in 2014. Sanders talked about whether he feels like he fits in to the new offense.
“I think so,” he said. “Hopefully I can catch a couple of deep passes and things of that sort. Like I said, we're going to get our chunks in more of a 15, 20, 25-yard range. I try to fit in any system. I just want to win.”
The topic eventually turned to the progression of second-year receiver Cody Latimer and whether he can use his rookie season as motivation going forward. Sanders was very supportive of his teammate.
“Of course,” he said. “You look around the league last year and you see a whole bunch of rookie receivers that were balling. You talk about [Giants WR] Odell Beckham (Jr.), [Dolphins WR] Jarvis Landry, [Steelers WR] Martavis [Bryant] and all those guys and then you've got Cody. He's a second-round draft pick. That puts a chip on his shoulder and saying 'Hey, look. I can go out here and play with those guys, too. I just need an opportunity.' I feel like everybody needs that opportunity.”
As for Latimer, the second-year receiver out of Indiana, who is best known for a vicious block against San Francisco in Week 3 of the 2014 preseason that knocked veteran 49ers safety Antoine Bethea out of the game, has two career receptions for 23 yards.
Nevertheless, the first question he fielded yesterday was regarding his perception of people expecting him to have a breakout season. The Dayton, Ohio native expressed confidence in himself.
“I'm very excited to be out here, back with the team,” he said. “Everyone is learning together. We're not looking that far ahead. We're looking at now. We're all trying to catch on to this new offense and we're just going to make plays.”
Latimer then talked about how different he is, one year removed from his rookie season, what he’s learned and how he’s changed.
“I'm much more prepared,” he said. “I came out here with the mindset of not trying to have any mess ups. I'm just trying to study more and be more mental so that I can play.”
In a follow-up question, Latimer said, “I'm in better shape. I lost weight. I'm down to like 210, 215. I'm much faster. I'm quicker and better at getting out of my breaks. This offseason really helped me.”
When asked if he likes Dennison's offensive scheme, Latimer talked about a facet of it that he happens to excel at—blocking.
“I love it,” he said. “There is a lot of running. We get to block and there are a lot of deep throws. That's something that we like: Big chunks of yardage.”
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With a new draft coming up this week, Latimer talked about what the draft process was like for him last season—a whirlwind experience for any prospective rookie.
“It's crazy,” he said. “Time flies. My first year went that fast. I was just in that seat last year getting drafted. Good luck to all of those people about to get drafted this week.”
Next, Latimer talked about how the offense is coming more easily to him, now that he has a year of NFL experience under his belt.
“It does [come easier] because I've had more time,” he said. “I came in after the draft last year, so people had [a] jump start. I got to start on the same page as everyone. Getting to work with 'P' (QB Peyton Manning) and going to Duke, I was able to get a head start. I'm able to come out here more confident in day one.”
In his closing comments, when asked about any benefits he accrued at Manning's Duke camp at Durham, N.C., Latimer was revealing.
“It was a lot,” he said. “It gives you a big jump on everything. You come out in the offseason and you know you have a new offense, but you haven't seen anything about it. Just being at Duke and knowing the different types of routes, formations and things we were going to have was a big help.”
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