ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Courtland Sutton, that wise, experienced veteran in the Broncos’ receiver room, had two bits of advice for all those new rookies who sit 6 feet away.
We’ll start with his recommendation No. 2: Remember to have fun. Even for a gym rat like Jerry Jeudy, this will not be so easy as the enormous playbook and litany of new techniques required to beat bigger, faster and more fundamentally sound cornerbacks off the ball can leave a rookie mentally spinning.
“I put so much pressure on myself because I never wanted to disappoint Demaryius or Emmanuel,’’ Sutton said about the Broncos’ former formidable receiver duo of Thomas and Sanders in a media Zoom call Tuesday. “I put so much pressure on myself. I had fun, but there were times where I was so in my own head about not making a mistake. I was like ‘Don’t mess up. Don’t mess up. Don’t mess up,’ instead of just going out there and having fun and playing the game the way I knew how to play the game.’’
Considering many, if not most, high-round rookie receivers struggle, Sutton had a fine first season for the Broncos in 2018. A second-round draft pick out of SMU, Sutton played well enough for the Broncos to give him room by trading away Thomas at midseason. Relying mostly on his innate ability to win the 50-50 balls down the sideline, Sutton finished with 42 catches for 704 yards, an impressive 16.8-yard per catch average.
His first piece of advice to Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Tyrie Cleveland?
Pay attention to coach Zach Azzanni. A few days shy of his 44th birthday, Azzanni is the second-youngest of Vic Fangio’s top position coaches (defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill is 41). Yet Azzanni has a coaching style that commands authority.
“He’s very passionate about how he coaches and what he believes in,’’ Sutton said. “It can come off—some people might look at is as he comes off too much, but he does it because he loves us. He doesn’t want us to fall under our potential.’’
Sutton came closer to realizing all his extraordinary physical skills in his second season of 2019. This time he played so well early the Broncos traded away Sanders so Sutton could be the team’s No. 1 and only.
Sutton had 72 catches for 1,112 yards that included some acrobatic touchdown snags in the quarterback debuts of Brandon Allen and Drew Lock.
Selected as a second alternate to the Pro Bowl, Sutton wound up playing in the game.
And so now he’s in year 3 and while Demaryius and Emmanuel are long gone, Jeudy and Hamler are the new guys who generated most of the offseason buzz.
There’s little question, though, that opposing defensive coordinators will deem Sutton as the Broncos’ top threat and give him the most attention.
Sutton has responded this offseason by increasing his mental preparation.
“It’s just continued work, continuing to master your craft from modified field work with social distancing that’s going on and then the modified at-home workouts, and then a lot of film study,’’ he said. “You get a lot of film study. With COVID going on, there’s less in the gym, less being around a lot of people, more of focusing on your own film study, working on watching yourself while also working on watching other people.
“I watched a lot of different guys on tape to steal some stuff from them. I watched some DBs that I will go against this year. Just preparing myself to move forward.”