ENGLEWOOD, Colo—After four solid, but unspectacular seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders set sail into the open waters of unrestricted free agency. When he saw the opportunity to play in “wide receiver heaven” with Peyton Manning, he signed with the Denver Broncos in March of 2014.
What followed was a breakout year for Sanders, culminating in 101 receptions for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns. This stalwart production earned him his first trip to the Pro Bowl. This year, with the changes at the coaching level, it’s conceivable that Sanders and the other starters at the skill positions, might experience a drop-off in statistical production.
“I think a good year this year is winning the Super Bowl first off,” Sanders said yesterday from the podium at Dove Valley. “It doesn’t matter about stats. I understand what you are saying. Obviously it’s not going to be one of those offenses where you have two receivers catching over 100 passes. My goal is just to really try to get 1,000 yards and help this team win ballgames.”
The statistical concern is germane to the Broncos moving from the No Huddle spread offense of the last three years, to Gary Kubiak’s zone running scheme, which relies heavily on the rushing attack as the focal point of the offense. Of course the Broncos are going to pass. Manning is still the quarterback, after all. But in the offseason training activities thus far, Sanders can see the difference in systems.
“It’s definitely different,” he said. “You talk about going from a no-huddle offense to an offense that’s huddling up, to an offense that is predicated off running the football and then throwing it. It’s a totally different setup but the more and more I’m in it—just going against [CB] Aqib [Talib] and [CB] Chris [Harris Jr.] today—off the play-action they looked at me and were like, ‘Man, you’re getting ready to have a good year.’ We can just get the run game going and use my vertical speed on crossing routes and all these different combinations of routes based off the play-action. I think the offense will be successful, especially with [QB] Peyton Manning at the helm.”
The perception that the Broncos are going to turn into the 2011 Broncos, who led the NFL in rushing yards and attempts, might be taking it a little too far. Sanders, and teammate Demaryius Thomas, can still expect to be highly productive. But maybe the stats look more like 70 balls, 1,100 yards and six scores.
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Regardless, it’s heartening to see where Sanders’ true motivation lies—winning the Super Bowl. As for the stats, he’ll get his, especially with Manning under center. With all of the changes that have occurred at Dove Valley this year, is it still “wide receiver heaven”?
“[No.] 18 is still at the helm,” he said. “You never know (laughing).”
As for Sanders’ new coaches, he likes what he sees. Having a head coach with three Super Bowl rings, albeit as a coaching assistant, means that he knows how to get it done. Kubiak understands the blueprint for success and he’s bringing that intensity and experience to the practice field.
“That’s what you want,” Sanders said. “You want a coach that brings a lot of energy. Even [Head Coach Gary] Kubiak, he told us today, that every great team he’s been on, they’ve talked a lot. They communicated a lot. When you’re out on the football field and you’re talking, you’re communicating and brining energy within everybody. I think that the coaches do a great job of doing that and brining energy to the team.”