Carney Column: The Emmanuel Sanders-Courtland Sutton training camp scuffle remains a concern moving forward
When the reports came out Broncos camp Monday afternoon that a fight had occurred, my initial reaction was very minor, since fights tend to happen in training camp at the professional level due to the heat and the constant battle against teammates, which can get really old really fast.
But once more information started to trickle out that it wasn’t an offensive player against a defensive player like usual, but in fact a receiver against a receiver — more specifically Courtland Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders, my level of concern skyrocketed, not only for the wide receivers room, but the team as a whole. I can’t remember the last time two players on the same unit fought each other in camp, let alone two from the same position group.
This hostility likely dates back to the start of OTAs earlier this year after Sutton, entering his second full season in the league, anointed himself the No. 1 receiver for the Broncos, placing himself ahead of the veteran Sanders, a highly emotional guy in his own-right, who was working back from a torn Achilles injury suffered in Week 14 last year.
“I’m excited going into this season knowing that I am going to get to be the No. 1 and I’ll get all of [those] looks and all of the pressure,” Sutton said on April 2. “I’m excited about that. I want my teammates to look to me as that leader and that guy that is going to assume that role and take it and go with it as long as I possibly can.”
On one hand, Sutton’s comments can be viewed as a positive, since the second-year receiver really struggled down the stretch as a No. 1 receiver after Sanders went down with the injury and Demaryious Thomas was traded to Houston, thrusting the SMU product into the top role. But on the other hand, for a highly-productive veteran like Sanders, Sutton’s comments can be seen as disrespectful and a shot across the bow toward a teammate who mentored the young receiver last season.
During Monday’s fisticuffs, Sanders could be heard shouting at Sutton “you haven’t proved [expletive] in this league,” according to those in attendance. Video later emerged of the fight and it was ugly, even though neither receiver landed any punches.
“It’s not good,” Vic Fangio, Denver’s first-year head coach said following Monday’s practice. “[It] can’t happen. [It] shouldn’t happen.”
We still don’t know exactly what sparked Monday’s fisticuffs between the two receivers, what we do know is that Sutton’s comments back in OTAs irked the veteran Sanders. Let’s not forget how hard the veteran wideout worked this winter, spring and summer to get back onto the field for training camp. Sanders is in his 10th year as a pro and his resume is pretty darn good. Sanders has three 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and five seasons with at least 65 receptions. He’s been to the Pro Bowl twice and contributed to Denver’s Super Bowl title in the 2015 win over the Carolina Panthers.
As for Sutton, he was a high draft pick with all the tools coming out of SMU, but as I said earlier, he really struggled in the No. 1 role late last season while going against the opponent’s No. 1 cornerback. Sutton was basically non-existent in the final quarter of the season, hauling in two or less receptions in two of those final four games, which helped derail the Broncos’ offense.
While it’s great to see Sutton shake off that poor close to the season by having great confidence entering his second season, he should have chosen his words wisely so as to not upset a veteran who did so much for him in his rookie season. Sutton certainly looks the part and talks the part of a top wide receiver, but he needs to actually learn how to play the position like Sanders has, rather than relying on his physical gifts. In a sense, Sanders pointed that out.
In fact, I wonder in the fisticuffs was an attempt to knock Sutton off of his perceived high horse in an attempt to humble him. Or, I could just be grasping at straws again. Who knows.
One thing I do know though is that it’s a bad look for the Broncos and could be a serious concern moving forward. What happens if the offense struggles to move the ball through the air under Joe Flacco, leading to Sanders and Sutton both getting heated at various points in the season. That could lead to visible arguments on the field and on the sideline, and possibly even in practice throughout the year. That drama is something the Broncos certainly don’t need, and definitely don’t want any part of.
Credit to the two though, as Sanders and Sutton both spoke to the media on Tuesday and tried to squash the beef quickly.
Asked about his relationship with Sutton, Sanders said it’s all good.
“It stands good,” Sanders said Tuesday. “Obviously, we’re family. We went to the same school (SMU) and grew up in the same area. It’s a miscommunication and that’s just what it is. At the end of the day, we’re back on the same page trying to be the best receivers in the world. Sometimes, through failure there is growth. And I feel like me and him have grown through this in terms of bringing that dog out even more and just (being) ready to win and tear it up.”
Added Sutton: “What Emmanuel said is right on point. We’re brothers at the end of the day. That’s all that matters. … This is a dude I look up to and a dude I’ve been watching for a long time chasing his records and getting here. (I’m) following in his footsteps. All that stuff is swept under the rug and we’re moving on to bigger and better things. We’re ready to win and take what we have here and keep growing it.”
It all sounds nice at face value, but what happens the next time the two face adversity together? Here’s hoping the dynamic duo can definitely grow from this and help lead the Broncos to where they want to get this season. If not, we could be looking back on this fight in training camp as a major red flag in the start of the potential downfall of the 2019 Broncos.
Josh Carney is the sports editor of the Post Independent. To reach Josh, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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