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Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders: 'We have to get past that Peyton Manning era'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If stages of football grief existed, Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders believes it'd be about time for the Broncos to move on to the acceptance-and-hope stage in the post-Manning era.

Peyton Manning was all things Broncos for the previous four seasons, until he retired in the weeks following the team's Super Bowl 50 win. And for much of training camp's early going this time around, the Broncos players and coaches have dealt with all manner of Life After Manning questions.

And Sanders believes, with every ounce of respect he can muster for the future Hall of Famer, that the Broncos have to keep moving as the new season approaches.

"Peyton was last year," Sanders said after Friday's practice. "I texted him [Thursday] and told him I miss him being out here, but at the end of the day this is a new team and the same goal. We have to get past that Peyton Manning era. Right now we're trying to find ourselves a quarterback and that's what it's about."

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has not yet named a starting quarterback and has said he wanted to see Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch play in the preseason games before making the call. Of the three, Sanchez has worked most with the starters, but Siemian has made it a close race as the Broncos approach their preseason opener Thursday night in Chicago.

"These guys are out here competing," Sanders said.

It is certainly the toughest act to follow, given that in the four years Manning was behind center, the Broncos won four AFC West titles, posted the highest-scoring season in league history and went to two Super Bowls, including last February's Super Bowl 50 win.

So, the Broncos players who were around during Manning's time with the team relish what happened and respect Manning in every way, but the reality is staring them in the collective face that Manning has moved smoothly into football retirement while the Broncos head into a new season.

"Everybody misses Peyton, but even Peyton would say you have to go play," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "He'd want us to win -- to do what we're supposed to do. There's nobody like Peyton, and I think sometimes that makes it easier to kind of move on, you know there's not anybody like him so you don't worry about waiting for the next one."

Or as Kubiak put it: "I think every transition into a new season brings some challenges and is hard in its own way. This is different in that it was Peyton, and players like him don't come around very often. They're unique, they're the best and they lift everybody. This team has to find its own way to get the most out of itself because last year's team got every bit of what it had out of itself and won it all."