The wide receiver, one of the marquee signings the team made in free agency, has had an on-again, off-again type of camp schedule because of a thigh injury he suffered in an Aug. 4 practice. He has missed several practices since, including just before and just after playing 20 plays on offense in the preseason opener, and his status is still questionable for Saturday’s preseason game against the Houston Texans.
Thursday, the third of three practices against the Houston Texans this week, was Sanders’ first day back on the practice field since Aug. 14.
“The quad injury feels good,’’ Sanders said. “Felt really good (Thursday). I didn’t have a problem with it, so I’m extremely happy about that, of course. Good to be out here with my guys practicing, just getting better, and gaining chemistry with Peyton (Manning). It’s looking good right now. Hopefully I’ll be playing on Saturday, but I’m not going to give it 100 percent right now. I’m going to go talk to the trainers and we’re going to take it day by day.’’
Whether or not Sanders plays Saturday will be decided at a Friday night staff meeting. Sanders’ status, as well as all of the playing-time decisions, will be outlined at that meeting.
Broncos head coach John Fox said the work this week against the Texans, because of the intensity, will have an impact on how much the starters play Saturday night. Starters typically play into the third quarter of the third preseason game, but Fox has said he might adjust that, given all of the competitive snaps the two teams had this week in team drills.
Saturday's game will also represent the last preseason playing time for most of the regulars, as they are routinely held out of the last preseason game. On Sanders, Fox said the Broncos liked what they saw Thursday, and despite Sanders’ hope that he will play, the decision won’t be made until Friday evening.
“Yeah we will … evaluate him (Friday),’’ Fox said. “We just have a short workout in the morning and we will meet (Friday) night and determine whether he goes or not.’’
The Broncos will take into account the fact that Sanders played in those 20 plays against the Seattle Seahawks and then missed practice time the following week.
“It’s been frustrating, but at the same time, it’s not anything major,’’ Sanders said. “I’m blessed to play this game and I had a minor setback. … What I’ve been talking to (Manning) about is -- and he’s been talking to me about it -- is that the starters usually don’t play in the fourth preseason game and this is important because I haven’t caught a pass in a game from him. We don’t want to go into the regular season with me not catching a pass from him in a game. So this game is extremely pivotal, and hopefully I’ll be out there playing.’’
For the Broncos, keeping Sanders on the field for practice in the next two weeks, as they gear up for the regular season, will be more important than sending him out for a smattering of plays Saturday night. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase said this week that Sanders’ work in the offseason, including a trip with Manning and the other front-line Broncos pass catchers to Duke for workouts, should keep the timing between Sanders and Manning where it needs to be.
Sanders said Manning did text him Wednesday night to say “he would like me to be out here practicing.’’
“At the end of the day, if I feel good, I’m going to play,’’ Sanders said. “ … Right now I don’t feel like I’m putting myself at any kind of risk of any kind of injury. It feels really good and I’m optimistic that I’ll be playing Saturday.’’