ENGLEWOOD — The last time receiver Emmanuel Sanders spent the offseason aiming to get his team back to the Super Bowl, there was only so much he could do.
Surgery on his right foot, then his left foot, made him more of a bit player in Pittsburgh's bid to repeat as AFC champion in 2011.
Playing for the Denver Broncos now, Sanders is back to full health and embracing his role in the sport more than ever.
The injuries taught him to appreciate football. And, he said, he figures a spot on the field with Peyton Manning could give him a chance to finally realize his full potential.
"Anytime you get the opportunity to play with Peyton Manning, you've got to capitalize on that," Sanders said Friday, after the Broncos wrapped up their first round of offseason workouts. "To have the opportunity to come into a passing system with one of the greatest, if not the greatest, player to play the position, it's a blessing."
After the injuries limited him to 22 catches in 2011, Sanders got a starting role in Pittsburgh and caught 111 passes over the next two seasons. Decent stats, but not what he felt was his full potential — the byproduct of being in a run-first offense and paired outside opposite Antonio Brown, who has almost the exact same body and receiving style as Sanders.
Now, Sanders, at 5-foot-11, 186, will play opposite 6-3, 230-pound Demaryius Thomas.
"He's a big, physical receiver and I'm more a smaller, quick, faster receiver that can stretch the field," Sanders said. "It definitely gives our offensive coordinator the ability to go with matchups. I think Peyton likes that a lot better also."
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase said the Broncos, after parting ways with Eric Decker, were looking for a receiver who could run the deep routes.
"Just that quickness, top of the route, and that speed down the field, is something that we were very interested in to start with," Gase said. "And he's shown us that he's still got that."
Now that he's regained it after a couple years overcoming the foot injuries, Sanders isn't taking anything for granted.
After wrapping up his first week of work with the Broncos, he went around to his teammates and asked them, "Can you believe we're in the NFL?"
Some rookie-like enthusiasm from a player getting ready for his fifth year in the league.
"It's from sitting on the sidelines, saying, 'Will I ever run again?'" he said. "Now, I'm just coming back into my own. Not having to worry about whether I can cut on a dime. Not having to worry about when I cut, will my feet break. I have an appreciation of everything because of what I've been through with my feet."