In his first year in the NFL, 24 year old, Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders ended up in the Super Bowl. His team came up short. Now, in his second year in the league, Mr. Sanders continues to grow in his role on the Steelers’ offense. He has, however, been dealt some obstacles. Emmanuel fell back to the fourth spot on the wide receiving depth chart after two foot surgeries.
In this CYInterview, Sanders speaks candidly about his current role, the struggles the Steelers have had this season on offense and what he needs to do in order to take his football career to the next level, as well as other topics concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers.
You can read and listen to the entire CYInterview below.
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Chris Yandek: How would you describe your progression that you’ve made on the field as a wide receiver in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense and how has your role changed this year compared to last year?
Emmanuel Sanders: “I think the progression is going really well. I just remember OTA’s when I first got here and my head was spinning 100 miles an hour. I didn’t have a clue what was going on and now you know, I’m getting more and more comfortable with the offense. And my role this year, last year I ended the season as the number three receiver. I ended up having two foot surgeries, so it was a minor setback. But I call it a minor setback for a major comeback. Right now I’m the fourth receiver. So I come in the game on third downs.”
CY: I’m aware you had an issue with your feet as you very well mentioned before the season started. How are you feet today and are you up to speed compared to last year?
ES: “Oh yeah. Definitely. I think right now I’m starting to hit my groove of being comfortable just playing on it and just getting my routes down. So everything is good.”
CY: Does it mean anything to you to get to play with a team that has such a rich football history?
ES: “Yeah. It definitely does. You know, I came from a program SMU. While I was there, didn’t really win too much, but it’s definitely on the rise right now. But just to come into a program that their business is winning and that’s all they do is win, it’s definitely a blessing. I appreciate it to the upmost power.”
CY: Well, as you mentioned, you came from Southern Methodist which, of course, you know has had some wins and has gone back to the national scene in recent years. So what was it like to be part of that and are there any stories or memories from Southern Methodist?
ES: “It was definitely good to be part of that. You know, when I arrived on campus, they hadn’t been to a bowl in 23 years. You know, I set my goal to try and turn that program around and I ended up doing it my senior year. And just some fond memories is that my last game there in the Hawaii Bowl. We ended up beating Nevada by 40 something points and ended up having a 160 something yards and a touchdown. So it was definitely a good sendoff.”
CY: Looking at this wide receiving core as you’d mentioned, of course, you know, you’re the guy that comes in on third down alongside Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and, of course, Antonio Brown. What kind of help and advice have all three of those guys given you?
ES: “You know, with each receiver that you play with, you’re supposed to take a little bit of what they have and add it to your artillery. When it comes to Mike, Mike is very great at deep balls. So I try to take what he’s thinking on his deep balls. Antonio is very explosive, a great route runner. And Hines, he understands the defenses. So I just try to take a little bit from what they bring to the table and add it to my artillery.”
CY: Yeah. Of course this year you’re competing for targets and playing time as you had mentioned alongside Antonio Brown. Is there any pressure there or is it really a friendly competition?
ES: “No. There’s no pressure. I only focus on what I can control and what I can control is going in the game and catching the ball and just doing my job and you know, I know my role. I’m gonna continue to play my role and with that said, hopefully it increase. I’m not really concerned about it.”
CY: What do you think you need then to step up and move up the depth chart and progress as a wide receiver?
ES: “I mean, honestly, I think that right now I have all the athletic ability in the world and I know what I can do with the ball in my hands and when I’m out there. Right now, it’s just about patience for me. I understand that it’s three other receivers and we all have the same athletic ability. But you know, stuff happens. Everyone can’t be out there at the same time. So like I said, I’m gonna continue to show the coaching staff. And like I said, I’m the fourth receiver, but I still get a lot of playing time and so I’m just blessed that I get the opportunity to have that playing time. I’m definitely going to be patient and wait my turn.”
CY: I think a lot of people are wondering about the offense this year and the struggles you guys have run into, what can you tell me about all those struggles and what will it take to get over the hurdle and execute?
ES: “Yeah we just gotta continue to stop beating ourselves with the post-snap and pre-snap penalties. I think everyone knows the capabilities of this offense and the explosiveness of this offense, but we just gotta start clicking. And I think it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna happen really soon. Through adversity, people get closer and you can just tell in the locker room right now that it’s an aura going around. It’s about that time for us to click and I’m looking forward to Sunday.”
CY: And what can the passing do to help the struggling running game?
ES: “There’s really not too much we can do. Like I said, we only control what we can control. And as a receiver, every time the ball is out you catch the ball. We’re gonna continue to block and I know that the offensive line and the running backs, they’re gonna get it altogether and this offense is gonna click.”
CY: I think some Steeler fans wonder, you know, what about this offensive line? Does [sic] the Steelers need to make some additions to this offensive line? Thoughts?
ES: “I think the offensive line is fine. You know, we had a couple of injuries vs. the Texans and they brought in Max Starks and I think he’s gonna come in and do a great job for us. I think the offensive line, you know they’re pretty much tired of hearing about all the hoopla that’s going around, that’s circulating just around, just the news in general. So I think they’re gonna go out and prove what kind of offensive line they can be led by Maurkice Pouncey.”
CY: Ben Roethlisberger has been injured a little bit recently. Does it impact team chemistry in any way when you practice with one quarterback during the week and then play with another on Sunday?
ES: “Nah. I think Ben is gonna practice today, one day off isn’t gonna affect the chemistry of the offense. Each receiver has been with him at least a year and a half. So, I mean, we’re gonna get out there today, we’re gonna throw some passes. We’re gonna gain that chemistry. So I think he’ll be good for Sunday.”
CY: Fantasy Football owners wanted me to ask you what can we expect from you from week to week in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense?
ES: “You’re gonna expect a receiver that every time he touches the ball, he’s gonna try to take it the distance and not getting very much reps right now. But I’ll guarantee you that when the ball comes his way, I’m gonna make something happen.”
CY: And what do you think of the fantasy football craze? I always wonder what players think about that.
ES: “I like fantasy football. It’s cool to see the fans say I drafted you in my league and go out and do a good job for me. So I like the whole aspect of fantasy football.”
CY: The toughest defense in the NFL my friend?
ES: “There’s so many. I think the Texans have a very good defense. They had a great front seven. I think Baltimore is really good. I think the New York Jets have a really great defense. I just can’t really just pick one.”
CY: I think looking at this entire scenario, you got to go to a Super Bowl last year, you came up short. You know, I know we’re still early in the season of course, but what does this team need to do to get back to the Super Bowl this year?
ES: “Like I said earlier, we just gotta continue to just focus, just focus on the minor details of our job and everyone, if everyone focuses on their job and plays their role then within the system will win as a team and I think that we’re gonna get that done.”
CY: Absolutely. Then a few more, what’s it like being a boy from Texas going up to cold Pittsburgh?
ES: “Oh man, I struggle with that at first. But you know, I got acclimated with it. It was definitely weird ‘cause in Texas, it doesn’t snow. So to see snow for almost the second and third time in my life was definitely crazy.”
CY: Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, thank you so much for joining me today. In closing, what do you want people to know about you away from the football field?
ES: “That really I’m just a low key humble guy, country boy just chasing, just living out my dream. I never thought. I envisioned. I dreamed that I’d be in the NFL and I knew that I had to work hard, but you know I never thought that I would actually get this far. So it’s definitely a blessing to be up here and playing with guys like Ben Roethlisberger or Hines Ward and you know just all the guys on the team. So, I definitely appreciate it and don’t take any of it for granted.”
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You can email Chris Yandek at ChrisYandek@CYInterview.com