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Steelers – Friday: Emmanuel Sanders looks primed for a breakout season

By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Emmanuel Sanders said that he’s a positive guy, always looking at that glass of water as being half full, so when he needed surgery on both feet and his right knee during the opening three seasons of his NFL career the fourth-year pro tried to take things in stride.
“I always thought it was a minor setback for a major comeback,” Sanders said.
Some believe Sanders is due to make a major impact this season. With 94 career receptions for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns in three seasons, including 44 for 626 yards (14.2) and one score last year, Sanders is primed.
“I feel like I’m a diamond in the rough,” Sanders said. I was the third wideout last year, and I thought I was extremely productive. This year, we’re loading up even more, and I’m No. 2. I think this receiving corps is still going to be good, even after Mike Wallace left.
“When you look at it, Antonio Brown is one of the most feared wide receivers in the league. Then you have myself and two veterans, Jerricho (Cotchery) and Plax (Plaxico Burress). And Markus Wheaton, the rookie, he obviously is a player, and I hope he continues to grow to help us out this season.”
If Sanders has a big year, that could propel him to a big contract, but it might not be with the Steelers. After three seasons with the club that drafted him, the Steelers delayed in matching the contract offered him by the New England Patriots, which was their right since he was a restricted free agent.
Eventually, they came through, and he signed the one-year agreement.
“At one point, I did think I was going to be a New England Patriot, because the Steelers waited until the last minute,” Sanders said. “But when Mike Tomlin called me, I was ecstatic. When me and Antonio got here, we wanted to win a Super Bowl. We came close in 2010, but it didn’t happen. So, I feel like there’s something I still need to accomplish here. (But) I’m not lying when I tell you that this is like any other season for me.
“I don’t even think about the contract. I’m just excited about the opportunity to be a starting wide receiver in this league, because after (my) surgeries, it just felt good to report to camp and be healthy. And be a starter. So, I’m more than prepared, and I worked hard to prepare for this moment. So, if I’m here next year, great, but if I’m not. I’m not. This is the one year that I’ve got right now, and I want to win the Super Bowl.”
Sanders has had a pretty good camp so far. He has made some big plays and displayed speed in the open field that has allowed him to run away from the secondary on several occasions. Sanders knows why that’s possible now.
“People forget that after two foot surgeries and a knee surgery in three years in the NFL, it’s going to take a little while to recover. But right now, I feel like I’m at 100 percent, and I’m back to being myself. When you have these nagging injuries, you can’t play like you’re used to.”
Sanders primarily will be running in Hines Ward’s old Z spot as a receiver, basically the inside role, and he’s up for the challenge.
“I like it, but you’ve got to be physical in the running game,” Sanders said. “And in the passing game, you get a fair amount of balls. They spread the wealth, but when the season starts Antonio’s probably going to get a lot of attention.
“And he should, because he’s a great player. So, I’m happy to be under the radar, but once I get my chance I’ll be able to show what I can do.”
That probably won’t ensure anything from the Steelers, as far as his contract is concerned, but that doesn’t bother Sanders.
“At the end of the day, I can’t do anything about it, except play football,” Sanders noted. “I got no promises and not talks about a long-term deal. (But) I want to be a Steeler, and why wouldn’t I? This is one of the best organizations in the National Football League, so I want to be here.”
Note: Starting cornerback Cortez Allen had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Friday morning, according to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
“We wanted him to get the surgery done now so he can begin rehabilitating it immediately,” Tomlin said in a released statement. “This surgery was a minor procedure and will have no long-term effects on his return to the field.
“We look forward to his rehabilitation process and having him back on the field in a couple of weeks.”
Allen was injured during the first practice Saturday and sat out the next four workouts before having surgery Friday morning.
Roster Juggling
The Steelers have made several roster moves this week. First, they signed cornerback Ryan Steed from Furman and tight end John Rabe from Minnesota. To make room on the roster, they released defensive tackle Omar Hunter and cornerback Nigel Malone. And Thursday night, they released long-snapper Luke Ingram and signed cornerback Buddy Jackson, formerly from Pitt.

About The Author

Dale Grdnic

TIOPS Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Grdnic is a contributor to Inside Pittsburgh Sports, covering the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pitt Football. Dale has covered the Pittsburgh Sports scene for over 15 years with various publications

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