Emmanuel Sanders is 32 years old and coming off a torn Achilles suffered in the final quarter of last season. Turns out, that wasn't the only procedure the Denver Broncos' Pro Bowl receiver has been working back from.
9NEWS Broncos insider Mike Klis reports that Sanders also had a 'tightrope' procedure on his other foot, which Sanders swears by but also said was way more painful than the Achilles injury. Sanders wanted to be back to 100% for his contract year as a Bronco and he wanted it kept under wraps.
What Sanders didn’t want revealed until he was fully ready to play again was the second surgery to his other ankle. He talked exclusively with 9News about his right ankle repair following practice Monday.
The right ankle injury, Broncos fans might recall, occurred as he was whacked while running a pattern across the middle in Game 5 of the 2017 season against the New York Giants. Sanders missed the next two games, played hurt for a couple more months and then sat out the final two games as the Broncos fell completely out of playoff contention.
He had the ankle massaged, iced, treated and rehabilitated over the offseason but it still didn’t feel right going into 2018.
“My (right) ankle gave me problems all last year,’’ he said. “I came to camp last year thinking, “How to hell am I going to get through this season?’’
Per Klis' report, Sanders believes his bum ankle was one of the reasons he ended up tearing his Achilles late in the 2018 season, as he was compensating for pain. That can throw an athlete's body out of whack and lead to exacerbated issues and unforeseen injuries. Give that Klis report a read (linked above). It's worth knowing what Sanders was dealing with and why he chose the 'tightrope' procedure.
The Broncos have been cautious with their use of Sanders during his recovery but even way back before training camp started (nearly a month and a half before), head coach Vic Fangio predicted that the veteran wideout's timetable to return might be sooner than expected.
“I’ve got no medical basis for this, but I think he’ll be back earlier than people think," Fangio said back on June 4.
Sanders was restricted to individual period during training camp practices and only last week was finally unleashed for 11-on-11 drills during the team portion. Remember the Sanders vs. Courtland Sutton fight? That was on day one of Sanders being cleared to return to 11-on-11 participation.
The Broncos have played two preseason games thus far and Sanders has been held out of each. Will we get to see the Broncos' defacto No. 1 receiver at all during this preseason?
“I do expect him to play," Fangio told reporters following Monday's camp practice.
Suffice to say, Sanders has accelerated his recovery from his Achilles injury. He's making plays and working on building chemistry with his new quarterback, Joe Flacco. Fangio's not surprised.
"No. If you guys remember, I kind of predicted it in the spring," Fangio reminded the assembled media. "My medical background gives me that prediction power (laughing). I thought he would make it back quicker than most and he has. He looks fine. I’ve asked the guys that have been here in the past to compare him to what he’s been in the past because I don’t have a past for him, and they don’t see any difference right now.”
If Sanders returns to even a shadow of the form he was in last year, the Broncos will have an explosive and formidable weapon to deploy on gamedays. Sanders was in the midst of one of his best statistical seasons as a pro before he went down with that injury.
Even though he missed the final four games of the 2018 campaign, Sanders still finished with 71 receptions for 868 yards and four touchdowns, while also posting a rushing and a passing score (thrown to Courtland Sutton in Week 7).
With the Broncos increasingly working Sanders back into the mix, the offense is beginning to find some cohesion. There are so many new components on that side of the ball and the Broncos will need every live-bullet rep they can get together before the regular-season opener in Oakland, while also straddling the line of not risking star players unnecessarily.
“I think we are making strides," Flacco said last week leading up to the Seattle preseason game. "Obviously with Emmanuel not being able to practice that much, you just got to deal with it. I think the benefit of it—the positive—is that we're both veterans, we've both done this for a long time. So, hopefully, we can make up some ground when he gets back a little bit quicker than usual just because of that.”
Honestly, with Sanders now in his sixth year in Denver, fans would be just fine with the Broncos waiting until Week 1 of the regular season to debut him. But it sounds like Fangio's got other designs.
With regard to when TE Jake Butt will debut, as he works back from a torn ACL suffered last September, Fangio was a little more cagey, especially on the question of whether the team's 2017 fifth-rounder needs to see preseason action in order to make the 53-man roster. A good first step would probably be easing Butt into 11-on-11 drills.
“That’s too much of a hypothetical question," Fangio said. "There are too many other factors. Maybe, but maybe not.”
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.