Sanders pulling double duty as receiver/punt returner

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Emmanuel Sanders is raising his hand - and not just to signal for a fair catch.

The Broncos' Pro Bowl wide receiver is preparing to return punts for the first time since his senior season at SMU when Denver opens the season Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

''Why not? It's an opportunity to get the ball in my hands and it's an opportunity to make plays, so I'm excited about it,'' Sanders said.

This certainly isn't how coach Gary Kubiak envisioned things working out, but Omar Bolden, Jordan Norwood and Isaiah Burse couldn't hold onto the ball or the opportunity in the preseason. So, now it's Sanders returning punts even though he missed most of the preseason with a pulled right hamstring.

Kubiak said he certainly had to weight the risks and rewards of putting his speedy wide receiver in harm's way, ''but I also think you look at touches. That's the most important thing. When you have a dynamic player like that, if there's any other way to get him a touch on the field'' you do it, especially if he doesn't need a lot of coaching.

''He's very natural doing it,'' Kubiak said.

Sanders said the way he sees it, it's risky playing receiver, too.

''I think that every play that you're out there puts you at risk. Punt return, it's dangerous, but at the same time you just have to be very cautious, don't make stupid mistakes and try to catch everything,'' he said. ''You have guys running down there trying to knock your head off. You have to play it smart and that's what I'm going to do.''

Sanders saw one teammate after another struggle to get a foothold on the punt return job in the preseason. When asked whether he or his coaches first brought up his giving it a shot, he said, ''I think it was a little bit of both. I want to be back there. I feel like I can do really well back there, so I'm looking forward to it.''

With Demaryius Thomas skipping the Broncos' offseason program while angling for a new contract, Sanders got plenty of work with Peyton Manning in the offseason. But he pulled his right hamstring on Aug. 6, the same day Thomas participated in his first full workout of training camp. The two didn't get on the field together with Manning until last week.

Sanders spent his days catching passes on the sideline, and also fielding some punts.

While he said he's feeling good and is prepared to turn it loose from scrimmage, his main goal as a punt returner is to secure the football.

''But I know myself,'' he said. ''The more comfortable I get with them I'm going to be trying to score. If I'm going to be doing it, I want to be the best.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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