ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Let us count the obstacles Emmanuel Sanders encountered in his attempt to play a sixth season with the Broncos, 10th in the NFL.
*He had Achilles surgery on his left ankle last December.
*A month later, he had a second major surgery on what had been a chronically painful right ankle.
*He was 32 years old at the young’s man position of wide receiver.
*He was scheduled to make a $10.15 million salary, not one dollar of which was guaranteed. Which meant his employment was vulnerable.
Time, health and the laws of football were conspiring to halt Sanders from adding on to his 535 career catches and 7,024 receiving yards.
Yet in recent weeks Sanders has been darting around Broncos’ training camp looking every bit the impact receiver he had always been when healthy.
And he will be out there playing a preseason game Monday night (6:10 kickoff, Channel 20) against the San Francisco 49ers at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
Two factors explain his remarkable comeback. The first: “Determination,’’ he said in an exclusive interview with 9News on Saturday. “Keeping a positive mindset. I never got down on myself. Even when the injury happened, I talked to my wife two days ago, she said I remember when I called you on FaceTime when you tore your Achilles, you were abnormal. I was so, whatever. It happened, it happened. I’m getting ready to have surgery the next day, but let’s go. Let’s attack this.
“And I think I pushed my body to the limit. As you could probably see on Instagram, I was doing two-a-day practices. Everybody was saying you probably need to chill out. I knew what I needed to do so I could get myself ready by week 1 and hopefully play in a preseason game. It’s all worked out in my favor so far.’’
In the game of football, though, personal want-to is not enough. Every player needs help, a leap of faith from his superiors. If Sanders didn’t make it back, the Broncos may have had the youngest, most inexperienced receiving core in the NFL. But Broncos general manager John Elway didn’t sign a veteran receiver from free agency this offseason.
He believed Sanders would make it back.
“I’m forever thankful for that,’’ Sanders said. “There was a lot of questions up in the air. People were saying will you be back? Will Elway pay him that amount of money? Elway believed in me. I think that’s a testament of our relationship and him seeing me work every single day. He knows the type of guy I am. I don’t hide who I am. You know. You know who I am. If I don’t feel like talking, I don’t feel like talking. But one thing about it is I’m going to work. I think Elway knows that about me. He knows I’m going to come into this locker room and I’m going to try to get the young guys right with the same mentality of, look, this is Broncos football and we’re here to win ball games. If you’re not here to win ball games you can see the door. Because I think for these fans – you want to talk about fans that love this team. You want to talk about this city that loves this team, I think they’re deserving of seeing us go out and win games. They’re coming into the stadium sold out. We need to get back to ’14 and ’15.”
With the Broncos employing a new offensive system with a new offensive coordinator in Rich Scangarello and new quarterback in Joe Flacco, the feeling by head coach Vic Fangio is even the immeasurable valuable players like Sanders need to play if they are to be effective for the regular-season opener September 9 against Oakland.
And so Sanders will start Monday night against the 49ers.
“We’re going to play it by ear,’’ he said. “I could say two drives, three drives, but if we go down and have a 12-play drive and we score, who knows. But if we have a three-and-out or four three-and-outs, I’m playing. It’s going to be a feel.’’
SUGGESTED VIDEOS | Sports