ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton will carry an added year of professional maturity, a little more savvy, and considerably more confidence into their second-chance opportunity as the Broncos’ 1-2 receivers.
Emmanuel Sanders’ locker sat empty Wednesday, his nameplate removed a day after he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for draft picks. Sutton and Hamilton are up.
“That’s what I came into the NFL for,’’ Hamilton said Wednesday of his chance for more playing time. “If somebody is not ready for an opportunity like this, then I don’t know why they’re even in the NFL or what they’re even playing for.’’
It didn’t work out so well in the final four games of last season. No. 1 receiver Demaryius Thomas had been traded away after eight games, which allowed the rookie Sutton to become the No. 2 receiver behind Sanders while Hamilton was elevated to No. 3 pass catcher.
When Sanders missed the final four games with an Achilles injury, the Broncos lost all four. Opposing defenses mostly played single coverage on Sutton and Hamilton so they could stack eight in the box against running back Phillip Lindsay.
After averaging 78 yards on 6.1 yards per carry in his first 12 games, Lindsay was held to just 33 yards a game on 2.6 yards per carry in his final three before a hand injury forced to miss the season finale.
Sutton, meanwhile, averaged just 35.5 yards per game receiving in the Broncos’ final four games while Hamilton came in at 45.5 yards.
Hurt last year, traded this year, either way, Sanders is gone. Sutton and Hamilton appear to be better equipped for their added responsibilities this year, especially Sutton, who has been Joe Flacco’s top target since the first offseason practice in April.
“It’s not about just being a 1,’’ Flacco said. “You either are or you aren’t based on how talented you are, what kinds of things you can do on the field and how much of a gamer you are.
“Courtland is obviously that guy. Nothing is really going to change for him. He’s just going to have to keep going out there and do what he’s been doing.”
Even with Sanders playing through the Broncos’ first seven games, Sutton led the team with 36 catches, 564 yards and 3 touchdowns. (Sanders had 30 catches, 367 yards and 2 TD’s.)
Sutton agrees with his quarterback.
“Nothing is really going to change for me,’’ Sutton said. “I go to work every single day. I go out there and I put my best foot forward when I step on the field. No matter where I was on the depth chart, it didn’t matter to me. I was going to go out there and put my best foot forward and that’s what is going to continue to happen right now.”
Hamilton has so far had a difficult season starting with his dropped touchdown in the opener at Oakland. But he did make catches of 12 and 13 yards in the second half against Tennessee after Sanders went down with a knee injury.
“I just like to see a little more oomph in his play,’’ head coach Vic Fangio said of Hamilton. “You know what I mean? Just a little more oomph.”
Hamilton speaks as if his season starts now.
“This is something that people look forward to,’’ he said. “This is what many people wish they could do. It shouldn’t even be a question whether I’m ready. At this point the question is, ‘How fast can I get started?’’’
The Broncos will go with Fred Brown and Juwann Winfree as their No. 3 and 4 receivers with punt returner/slot back Diontae Spencer also expected to get more touches. Tim Patrick is expected to come off the injured reserve list after the bye week and play game 10 at Minnesota.
Another Harris! The Broncos filled Sanders’ vacated roster spot by claiming defensive lineman Jonathan Harris off waivers from the Bears.
The Broncos now have four players with a surname of Harris: Chris, Davontae, Shelby and Jonathan, who was a Waubonsie Valley (Aurora, Il.) High School teammate of tight end Troy Fumagalli.
The Broncos also brought back undrafted rookie receiver Kelvin McKnight to their practice squad and released offensive lineman Tyler Jones. McKnight flashed skill in training camp and arrives in time to impersonate the Colts’ top receiver T.Y. Hilton in practice.
After missing the past six games with a left knee sprain, right tackle Ja’Wuan James will play Sunday against the Colts in Indianapolis. It appears James and left tackle Garett Bolles will be the starting tackles, but Fangio said Eli Wilkinson would get playing time as James is not ready conditioning-wise to play a full game.
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