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Broncos' Emmanuel Sanders sees a return to 'wide receiver heaven' in Denver

By: ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
April 17, 2017 Updated: April 17, 2017 at 7:22 pm
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photo - FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2016, file photo, Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) pulls in a touchdown pass as Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines (23) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, in Denver. Sanders called Denver "wide receiver heaven" back when he joined the Broncos in 2014. He's counting on Mike McCoy bringing back nirvana to the Mile High City in 2017. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2016, file photo, Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) pulls in a touchdown pass as Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines (23) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, in Denver. Sanders called Denver "wide receiver heaven" back when he joined the Broncos in 2014. He's counting on Mike McCoy bringing back nirvana to the Mile High City in 2017. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File) 

ENGLEWOOD — Emmanuel Sanders called Denver "wide receiver heaven" back when he joined the Broncos in 2014. He's counting on Mike McCoy bringing back nirvana to the Rocky Mountains in 2017.

Running routes called by Adam Gase and catching passes from Peyton Manning, Sanders posted career highs with 101 receptions for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns in his first season with the Broncos.

Then, Gase left town and Manning got old.

Sanders' numbers dipped to 76 catches for 1,125 yards and six TDs in 2015, but the Broncos won the Super Bowl that year, so Sanders had no complaints.

That changed last season when both he and Demaryius Thomas got off to slow starts under coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. With a combined $92 million in contracts and the high expectations that accompanied their big paychecks, Sanders and Thomas griped about their dearth of catches in September, insisting their frustrations stemmed not from selfishness but out of a sense of duty.

Sanders finished with 1,032 yards and five touchdowns on 79 receptions, but the Broncos missed the playoffs a year after winning it all.

When new coach Vance Joseph brought back McCoy, Gase's mentor, as the Broncos' new offensive coordinator, Sanders rejoiced.

"I believe that it's going to be a pass-happy offense," Sanders said Monday. "I had the opportunity to play in this offense in 2014, had 1,400 yards. So, hopefully we can simulate that some type of way and put up points and score and help our defense. So, that's the goal."

Sanders said he expects to be used in the slot more this season, just like he was in 2014 when the bulk of his receptions came across the middle of the field.

Sanders, who bought a JUGS machine a few winters ago, said he installed a home gym this offseason to get a jump-start on his offseason training: "Honestly, this is probably the best I've felt in a long time because of just having that gym and that Jugs machine out there and being able to train at home whenever I want," he said.

Joseph said last week he wanted this QB competition between incumbent Trevor Siemian and former first-rounder Paxton Lynch to "go down to the wire " this summer.

Sanders said he's OK with that.

"Obviously, the earlier that we can get clarity, the better. But do we want to rush that process? No, we don't want to rush that process. We want to have the right guy," Sanders said. "I know those two guys are excited. I'm excited to see it because competition brings out the best in you. So, we're going to see who it brings out the best in. It's going to be pretty cool to see."

Sanders endorsed both of his QBs, the heady Siemian, the 250th pick in 2015, and the athletic Lynch, the 26th selection a year ago.

"I think both of them got everything that you look for," Sanders said. "They both have a confidence, they both have a presence, they both can throw the ball, make every single ball: deep ball, short, out, all across the field. So, I think we are sitting here right now in a good position with two guys that are hungry, that want to be starters, that want to be franchise quarterbacks.

"So, with that said, all I can do is go out and handle my business, see how it all pans out. It's crazy because it seems like every year it's a question about the quarterback, the quarterback, the quarterback. And every year, it's the same answer: The best guy is going to show. Obviously, we want a guy that can take us all the way to the Super Bowl."

Sanders said his personal goals, regardless of who's on the other end of all those passes, are to top 1,000 yards receiving for a fourth consecutive season, make his third Pro Bowl and be voted an All-Pro again.

"Another pass-happy offense, hopefully I can get up there in the 1,400-1,500 range like I did in 2014," Sanders said.

"The sky is the limit."

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