ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — When Emmanuel Sanders returned from vacation to start the Denver Broncos’ offseason training program, he went straight to the team store and loved what he saw.
Hanging off the racks were No. 4 Case Keenum jerseys.
For the first time since Peyton Manning’s retirement after Super Bowl 50, the Broncos entered their offseason training program certain of who will be under center after signing Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal and declaring him the starter.
“I appreciate it, for sure,” Sanders said Wednesday. “This is the first time in two or three years that I’m not standing up here talking about a quarterback debate. I remember when I got out here, I went out to the team store and I saw Case Keenum jerseys . I was like, ‘Thank God, I don’t have to deal with that again.’
“Case is our guy. We can go from there. We can work our butts off, try to gain chemistry and try to put up points.”
On the day he signed his contract, Keenum was named the starter by general manager John Elway, who also traded Trevor Siemian, who had beaten Paxton Lynch for the starting quarterback job each of the past two summers, to Minnesota.
After the draft last weekend, Elway reiterated two things about Lynch, whom he traded up to draft in the first round out of Memphis two years ago:
— He still believes he’ll figure things out and become a starting NFL quarterback.
— He’ll have to beat out Chad Kelly this offseason to win the backup job.
If he doesn’t, it would mark the third straight summer that Lynch has failed to beat out a seventh-rounder for a job.
Sanders, who said he’s healthy after being bothered by an ankle injury almost all of last season, is a big fan of Keenum and of the Broncos’ decision to declare him the starter right away.
“He’s a leader,” Sanders said, adding that “98 percent” of his passes so far have been on target. “He’s confident in himself. He’s one of those guys that when he steps into the huddle, he’s that leader.
“You don’t have to second-guess what his thought process is. We’re going to complete this ball. We’re going to keep the ball moving. I’m liking what I’m seeing from him so far.”
Sanders and Demaryius Thomas were loath last season to complain about it, but they were clearly affected by the turnstile at quarterback as the Broncos churned through Siemian, Lynch and Brock Osweiler during a 5-11 season.
“You can sit back and say we’re all professional football players and you’ve got to deal with that situation, but at the same time, obviously you can’t gain the same chemistry,” Sanders said.
“You don’t have the same mindset. You have to talk to two different quarterbacks. When you’re going into individual routes, you have to go to one guy and then go with the next guy. You don’t really gain that chemistry. You’re not maximizing the opportunity.
“Now we’re maximizing the opportunity, and hopefully it pays off.”
The Broncos also added some talent into their wide receiving depth, replacing free agent departures Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler III with draft picks Courtland Sutton of SMU and DaeSean Hamilton of Penn State.
Sanders, who also played at SMU, worked out with Sutton over the winter and was delighted when the Broncos picked him in the second round.
At 6-4 and 218 pounds, he’s built like Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
“D.T. is big,” Sanders said, but Sutton “looks like he belongs in the NBA. Working out with him, he has amazing feet. He’s very fluid for being so big. I’m looking forward to getting him in here and just working. Hopefully he can come up with some big plays for us this year.”
At 6-1 and 205 pounds, Hamilton is closer to Sanders’ size — 5-11, 180 — but still bigger.
“I’m going to teach those guys everything that I know,” Sanders said. “That’s my job.”
Sanders, who is 31 years old and will make $8.25 million this season, said he’s not concerned that the rookies will eventually unseat him.
“That’s going to happen sooner or later,” Sanders said. “… All I can do is make plays every single day and show that if I become expendable here, just show some other team, hey, look, I still got it. I still got the juice.”
NOTES: The Broncos face a Thursday deadline to exercise OLB Shane Ray’s fifth-year option at more than $9 million, which seems unlikely given that he’s started 15 games in three seasons, missed most of last season with a wrist injury and watched Bradley Chubb fall to Denver with the fifth pick in the last week’s NFL draft.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)