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Former Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders Prefers Peyton Manning’s Leadership

It certainly seems as though former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders likes to make frequent appearances on Denver sports radio, during which he often discusses working with Ben Roethlisberger compared to his new quarterback with the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning.

He was once again on Denver’s 104.3 The Fan on Thursday discussing the beginning of training camp and what it was like working with the future Hall of Fame quarterback. Pro Football Talk seized upon this appearance today, and naturally tried to make it sound as partisan as possible by stripping a sound bite of its context in order to promote their own idea.

The interview began with the hosts asking Sanders about how cool it is to work with Manning after practice with some of the other wide receivers. Later, he was asked, as he always is in every interview, what is different between Roethlisberger and Manning, and PFT naturally only included the passage below—minus the introductory caveat:

From a mental standpoint—and I don’t care to really say this—but I feel like Peyton’s a far better leader [than Roethlisberger] , in terms of staying after practice, catching balls, wanting guys to get on the same page with him, things of that sort. This is the first time that I’ve had a quarterback that…keeps guys like me…after practice, and we’re out there for 15-20 minutes. He’s not one of those guys that you’ve got to go chase down. He’s going to be right in the same spot, ready to work, every single day. I just feel like that’s a difference from a mental standpoint.

What the PFT article left out was all the positives that he said about Roethlisberger, and Sanders highlighted again that the main difference between the two quarterbacks is the system that they run, where the Steelers’ system is more constrained and balanced.

Asked if he prefers the Broncos’ method and this offense, Sanders said “of course”. He went on: “I guess my opinion is kind of biased, because of course what receiver doesn’t want to be in a spread offense? What receiver doesn’t want to be in a passing offense that’s going to throw it 40-50 times a game?”

He concluded: “I’ve got so much love for Ben. Ben has helped me out tremendously in so many ways, on and off the field. He’s made me a better player. But at the same time I’m not going to lie, I’m happy to be a part of this organization, and I’m happy to have Peyton Manning as my quarterback”.

Nobody is going to begrudge a wide receiver that would prefer to work with Manning over Roethlisberger. There’s no doubt that working with Manning was one of the driving forces behind Sanders choosing to go to Denver in free agency.

It is worth pointing out, however, that Roethlisberger is more like Manning in his work habits than he may realize. Perhaps it’s just a matter of Sanders not being as big a part of Roethlisberger’s preparation.

Remember, early in the offseason, Roethlisberger brought his young receivers out for a throwing session to help get them all on the same page, and it’s clear that that has been paying dividends for the likes of second-year players Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown. We’ve also seen time and again that Roethlisberger does extra work with his receivers. Alex Kozora noted recently that while the team was running special teams drills, Roethlisberger was working with Antonio Brown.

Like Manning is doing now with Sanders, Roethlisberger is providing extra attention to his own new veteran, Lance Moore, who is expected to be the Steelers’ new slot receiver. It’s also been widely reported that the veteran quarterback commands practices with much more urgency and intensity these days, getting on his young receivers and helping to correct their mistakes.

While Roethlisberger didn’t come into this league as the natural wunderkind that Manning, the son of an NFL quarterback did, it’s worth keeping in mind that Manning also had a six-year head start. It’s also worth keeping in mind that Manning was a first overall pick, meaning that he was drafted by a terrible team, who tossed him the keys and told him to drive.

Roethlisberger’s ascendance to a leadership role has been gradual, having come into an environment filled by veterans and a strong tradition. As the years ago by, there’s no question that Roethlisberger is becoming more and more of the general, and taking greater authority over the offense.

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