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Broncos’ ‘next man up’ mantra getting tested big-time

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In a span of three days, Denver has lost two All-Pro starters in Chris Harris Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders. But the ‘next men up’ say they are ready for the challenge.

Los Angeles Rams v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Good morning, Broncos Country!

The bad news about Emmanuel Sanders tearing his achilles hit hard in Broncos Country, but the locker room took it in stride as “next man up” mentality came out in full force.

“Seeing Emmanuel go down was a very sad situation. The guy works his ass off. You all see it. Everybody sees it. You hate to see that for somebody in this position. He’s having a great season,” said rookie Courtland Sutton, who had his own “step up” moment in Week 7 when the Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas and suddenly the rookie was WR2. “But we’re all professionals now. We’ve got to step up - myself, DaeSean [Hamilton], Tim [Patrick], ‘Riv’ [River Cracraft] - we’ve all got to step up and step into these roles that we’ve been handed, and not look back into it.”

Hamilton will slide into a starting role - opposite fellow rookie Sutton - after not having more than three targets in any game this season.

But in the final quarter of the season’s schedule, head coach Vance Joseph doesn’t consider that rookie territory any more.

”What week is it? Fourteen? So he’s no longer a rookie,” Joseph said. “He has to go play. Along with Tim Patrick. Along with River Cracraft.”

Hamilton says they’re ready.

“We’re all ready to just step up and be the next guy up, be the next person to make plays for this team,” said Hamilton, adding that while it’s under unfortunate circumstances, the opportunity to take the field is something he’s been looking forward to. “Just getting an opportunity - not ‘E’ going down, nothing like that, never anything like that - but I’ve been looking forward to this all season. Really, it has been something that I kind of just been itching at. And finally, that it’s here, this is just an opportunity that I know I’m not going to let go.”

That will be important since Sanders had been having a great season, already amassing 868 yards through just 12 games, and was known for clutch plays when the offense needed it the most. He also had six touchdowns, including one rushing and one passing.

Those fast shoes of No. 10’s will be hard to fill, but Hamilton believes he is ready for the new challenge.

“I know guys like me, Tim and River - we’ve been working hard all season,” Hamilton said. “We’ve been doing stuff every single day like we always have been doing. Not a lot is going to change...the way I attack every single day, that’s not going to change. That’s why I keep the same mentality, keep the same confidence in myself.”

Thankfully, Hamilton and Sutton both got a lot of education from Sanders - and DT - on nuances of the pro game to bring the rookies up to speed as much as possible. Since Sanders and Hamilton are similar in size and have similar strengths in route running, the rookie believes Sanders was able to give him more insights perhaps than even some others.

‘E’ especially...From top to bottom, he’s been a great leader for us. He’s showed us the ropes, he showed me how to be an NFL football player, showed me how to be an NFL wide receiver,” Hamilton said. “Him and D.T., it’s really just taking all of the things they taught us, taught Courtland, taught myself, and really just implementing it on Sunday.”

With all of the injuries to starters throughout the season, this team’s favorite cliché of late - being “battle-tested” - couldn’t be more true.

Rookies and young players have been stepping up all season - from Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Sutton to Bradley Chubb, Isaac Yiadom and Dymonte Thomas. It’s a team of inexperienced players, but they know their jobs.

“It sounds cold, but it’s not. It’s about the next man has to be prepared. That’s just how football is,” Lindsay said, noting any player could go down with an injury at any moment. “The next person behind you has to be as prepared as you were. And if that’s the case, and everybody is prepared as the next person is, then you don’t lose a beat. You continue to move.”

Lindsay also believes the rookie-heavy starting group could have an advantage of sorts.

“It is an advantage because we’re young and you just go out there and play ball,” he said. “But we also know that this isn’t just a regular rookie class. This is a unique rookie class that is really mature. You’re not going to get a rookie class like this in the NFL. I don’t care what anybody says.”

Sanders himself believes in the guys coming up to replace him too - as he said on social media last night.

“I believe in my teammates that they will get the job done and keep this win streak alive. Let’s go my brothas!” he said, including the hashtag ‘minor setback for a major comeback.’ “Thanks to everyone who reached out to show love. I appreciate it.”

Horse Tracks

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