The Denver Broncos will look different on offense this year under new head coach Gary Kubiak and new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Instead of being a top aerial attack in the NFL, the Broncos will instead use a more balanced system featuring the ground game.
The new offensive philosophy will change the production level for all members of the offense—but most notably, it should have a negative impact on the numbers the receivers put up in 2015.
Earlier this week at Dove Valley, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders spoke to the media as the team kicked off "Phase 1" of the offseason program. Wearing a team-issued shirt that read "Iron Sharpens Iron," Sanders reflected on last season and looked forward to the year ahead.
Sanders is excited to learn the new scheme and get back to business for the Broncos.
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Kubiak made a positive impression on Sanders the first time they met.
“It went well. The message was definitely 'world championship' from the start. I think that’s what (executive vice president of football operations/general manager John) Elway wants. The focus is bringing a world championship to this city, and he showed us a 10-minute clip of the past 20 Super Bowls and the big plays that happened in (those) games."
Sanders further explained, "He pretty much told us that it’s going to take a special group of men to bring a world championship to this city. We’ve got the guys in the room that are going to do it, and that is the focus.”
Kubiak has been to the top of the mountain before with the Denver Broncos as an offensive coordinator. Now, like Elway, he wants to take the team to the top once again.
The feel around the building is different this season. The first day at Dove Valley, there was a buzz and a more relaxed feeling than there was the first day of last offseason. Sanders talked about the sensation.
“It’s definitely a new team. We’ve got new coaches. Every year, no matter what organization you play for, you want the standard to be a world championship. If it’s not a world championship, it’s a bust."
Sanders clarified, "Obviously, it’s a new year, but we’ve still got the same goal. We get the opportunity to press the restart button. We’ve got a new coaching staff and we’re trying to chase it, and it started today.”
After reaching the Super Bowl in a record-setting 2013 season, there seemed to be a kind of tension at Dove Valley because they didn't bring home the championship. That feeling lingered for most of the year, as the team once again rolled most weeks of the regular season.
This year, that tension is no longer in the building. That absence could lead to a more relaxed and more focused team in 2015.
Over the past few years, Peyton Manning has gathered his top receivers and gone to Duke University for some offseason work. Sanders enjoys the extra time with his teammates—and his quarterback.
“It’s really beneficial. I enjoyed myself out there. When we go out there, it’s definitely work. You talk about two-a-days, two-a-day practices in which you’re going for an hour-and-a-half. Peyton, he loves to throw it."
Sanders explained, "You definitely are getting better. This year we had the privilege of having (Steelers WR) Antonio Brown come out. (Giants WR) Odell Beckham was there, and (Giants WR) Victor Cruz. I think just as a group, everyone got better. I think that’s what it’s all about: just trying to get a jumpstart on OTAs.”
Even though Demaryius Thomas did not attend the workouts at Duke, Sanders had fun putting together the following tweet:
Another team photo from today's workout at duke! 😳😳 pic.twitter.com/3wYHtySQP3— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) April 2, 2015
When asked who had the idea to Photoshop Thomas into the picture, Sanders smiled and said, "I think it was a little bit of me and Peyton."
Demaryius Thomas’s absence
At this time, superstar wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is not with his teammates. Earlier this year, the Broncos placed the franchise tag on Thomas, and he has yet to sign his tender. Not under contract, the two sides have until July 15th to work out a new long-term deal.
Sanders isn’t distracted by Thomas' absence at Dove Valley.
“That’s all personal. That’s his business. I try not to get too far into that. All I know is that I feel like they’re going to work everything out and he’s going to be back. When he does get back, I know that he’s working his butt off right now and he’s looking forward to getting back. When he does, we’re going to pick up from there.”
Broncos fans should feel confident the two sides will work something out before the deadline. When signed, it won't take Thomas long to get up to speed in the new offense.
Manning is Rejuvenated
Manning had a great season for the Broncos last year but was banged up toward the end and didn’t look like his old self. Sanders says he sees a rejuvenated Manning at Duke and at offseason workouts.
“I think for everyone last year was a disappointment, but at the same time it’s a new year, so everyone is rejuvenated. Everybody has refocused. You’ve got an opportunity in the offseason to take a month away, don’t think about football."
That break was beneficial for Sanders and the Broncos. "I think everybody is now just getting back into the groove of, ‘Hey, the season is here now. It starts today. Let’s try and get this world championship.’ I think the same thing with Peyton."
Manning's love for the game is part of what has driven him to be one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Sanders can feel the love.
"He loves this game. He’s one of those guys that I say repeatedly that I’ve never seen a guy that loves the game of football as much as he loves it. That passion and that spark is there. He’s still the great leader of this organization, and he’s fired up about Kubiak being here and hopefully bringing a world championship to the city.”
A Rising Star?
The Broncos moved up in the second round of last year’s draft to select Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer. As a rookie, Latimer barely saw the field and finished the season with only two catches for 23 yards.
This season, we should see Latimer featured more in the offense. Sanders is a believer in the second-year pro's talent.
“On my Twitter, I’m real vocal about Cody, and that’s because I believe in Cody. Cody, he’s a special player. He has strong hands. He’s a physical tool. I think that this is going to be the year that he jumps onto the map—onto the scene."
Sanderson emphasized, "I think he’s going to have a big year. I’m happy that he is on my team and in our wide receiver group.”
C.J. Anderson’s Influence
The Broncos will have a more balanced offense in 2015. The centerpiece of the offense will be the rushing attack led by C.J. Anderson. The offense will feed off what should be a dominant run game, and Sanders knows what effect it will have on the rest of the team.
“I think it energizes C.J. I just saw this guy walking in with his chest a little big (laughing). But if I was him, I would be, too. He’s fortunate to be playing in this offense. I think that he’s going to have a big year.
"At the same time, I tease him and tell him I’m not going to block for him, but I’m looking forward to it. I just want to win ball games."
Sanders certainly has a championship on his mind.
"No matter how we get the job done, the ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl. I think that everybody, including (OLB) DeMarcus Ware over here, he wants to bring a championship to this city. That’s why we play this game. That’s what it’s about.”
A big part of their championship plans should involve Anderson leading the way on the ground. Under Kubiak, we could see Anderson rush for over 1,500 yards this season as the Broncos' lead back.
Is Sanders' Role Changing?
In the Kubiak system, Sanders may not post the numbers that he did last season in a more pass-happy offense. Sanders isn’t concerned with besting the numbers he posted last year. His goals for 2015 are simple.
“My goal is to always try to have a 1,000-yard season. That’s going to be the main focus—62.5 yards per game. That’s going to be my focus, because that’s how you get 1,000. Whatever comes after that, that’s a positive. Other than that, as long we win ball games, I’m happy.”
In addition to striving for the second 1,000-yard season of his career, Sanders is going to get more playing time in the slot this season.
“That’s what (wide receivers coach) Tyke (Tolbert) told me today. When we go into our three-wide receiver package, I am going to move into the slot, which I’m very comfortable doing because I played the slot in Pittsburgh and a lot in college. I’m looking forward to that.”
Tolbert is one of the holdovers when the new coaching staff took over. Having that constant is important for Sanders as he looks forward to the 2015 season.
“It’s a lot easier for a guy like me because I came in last year, Tyke and I got close and he’s one of the reasons I had a productive season last year. He took me under his wing and taught me the playbook really fast.
"I think he’s going to do the same thing this year in terms of taking everybody under his wing and getting everyone caught up in this offense, so everybody can be successful.”
Even though the Broncos are implementing a new offense, Sanders and the rest of the team should be able to grasp the new concepts quickly. This team will have a different identity on offense in 2015.
And even without the same numbers they put up in 2014, they could be a better team with this switch.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.