- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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It really should be no surprise that former Broncos/Colts/Ravens/Giants/Seahawks wide receiver Brandon Stokley might have said it best, might have hit the available nail squarely on the head.
After all, Stokley spent five seasons in his highly productive career with Peyton Manning at quarterback. They are long-time friends, and Stokley has always been able to offer plenty of insight into what makes Peyton tick with a football in his hands.
Said Stokley: "I don’t think it’s an accident guys do more when they're with Peyton than they did before they played with Peyton, or what they do after they played with Peyton. If you’re involved, do the work and get yourself where you need to be every time, you get the ball in a position to do something with it. It’s that simple."
So, the early returns for the Broncos, from Manning’s recent workouts at Duke with the team’s pass-catchers, are that Emmanuel Sanders should be poised for a bump in production if he holds up his end of the bargain in the coming offseason work. Certainly, Sanders wasn't stuck in passing purgatory before his arrival in Denver.
He has played the past four seasons with a two-time Super Bowl winner in Ben Roethlisberger in a Steelers’ offense the team has gradually opened up for Roethlisberger. Sanders had a career-best 67 catches last season, his fourth in the league.
But the Broncos have spliced two words into conversations about potential tweaks to their high-octane offense this offseason -- efficient and explosive.
Efficient, as in get more of it in the run game. Denver was 11th in the league rushing attempts last season, at 28.8 per game.
So, as their attempts to pump up the run game continue this offseason, that doesn’t mean adding much to the quantity of runs, but rather improving the quality. The optimism of spring and summer are always nice, but the true test will always come in the regular season against some physical defenses. The Broncos believe some adjustments, including moving Orlando Franklin to guard and making Montee Ball the full-time tailback, will help them get a little more return on those carries.
Then there is the explosive part of the equation. That is where Sanders comes in.
The Broncos set the scoring bar last season with a record 606 points as Manning set single-season records for touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477). They have receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas as front-line players at their respective positions, but wanted even more pop.
They want to be able to shock defenses more, attack more places on the field, do more with the ball once the completion is made. They think Sanders is the guy to help do that.
After the workouts at Duke, Manning said he likes what he has seen.
"He is explosive," Manning said of Sanders. "You can’t hold the ball very long when he is running a route, I learned that. He is excited about being here. Obviously, it is fun to play with guys who are excited about being here with the Denver Broncos. In the studies that I kind of did on him, I saw that he led their team in tackles on kickoff team one year. That tells you the guy likes football. That is more than just being a receiver; that is being a football player ... I look forward to playing with a guy like that."
Sanders has called playing in an offense with Manning at quarterback “wide receiver heaven." And there is plenty of precedent to what Stokley is talking about.
Jerome Pathon had not one, but two 50-catch seasons with Manning throwing him the ball, and that was Manning as a rookie and a third-year quarterback. Stokley played 15 seasons in the league, but his five seasons with Manning included his single-season career bests in catches (68), receiving yards (1,077) and touchdowns (10) -- all in 2004.
Anthony Gonzalez was a 57-catch receiver in 2008 with Manning.
Sanders is replacing Eric Decker in the Broncos' offense after Decker had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons following Manning’s arrival. Decker had 13 touchdown catches in 2012 and 11 this past season.
So, if Sanders and perhaps a rookie to be named later in the coming draft figure out where they are supposed to be, they should reap the rewards and take care of another "e" word.