Former Manatee High receiver Ace Sanders quickly finding his way in the NFL with Jaguars

adell@bradenton.comJune 30, 2013 

Blood is thicker than water, except in the NFL.

Ace Sanders can mark that down among the things he has learned since he was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars last April.

The former Manatee High receiver already knew that the game would be quicker and the athletes better than he faced during his three years at South Carolina.

But trade secrets?

Well they are like pieces of gold that you keep under lock and key.

Even Sanders' boyhood friends, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of the Denver Broncos and Mike Jenkins of the Oakland Raiders, have a line you don't cross.

There is too much at stake.

So while they were willing to give Sanders advice on what to expect at NFL training camps, they weren't about to tell him how to get open.

"We play both of them this year (on the road), and they wouldn't tell me anything about going up against defensive backs," Sanders said with a laugh Saturday when he was working DRC's football camp. "But that's OK. I don't need them to tell me. I can do it myself. They gave me good insight on what to do at camp, but when it came to tips on playing against cornerbacks, they let me figure that out on my own."

Fortunately, Sanders does know a defensive back willing to share some secrets

of the trade.

His dad, Tracy Sanders, played for Florida State opposite Deion Sanders, spent some time in the NFL and was a highly successful player in the Arena Football League.

The elder statesman of the Sanders household advises his son every chance he gets, but is not sure all of Ace's friends or relatives want him to succeed when he plays against Denver or Oakland.

"Mike is my wife's first cousin, and Dominique has been a friend of the family since he could walk, so none of us are going to miss those two games," Tracy Sanders said.

Ace's brother, Cornelius, is a rabid Broncos fan, and Rodgers-Cromartie is his best friend. So is he going to root against his brother that day?

"I don't know," Tracy Sanders says.

Ace has figured things out pretty well.

"Mike and DRC said get the playbook down pat and then you go can play full speed. Mistakes are going to come, but the faster you can play the better," Sanders said.

Sanders' biggest help during OTAS and minicamp has been Cecil Shorts, who led the Jaguars in receiving yards with 955 and touchdowns with seven last season.

"He is like my big brother and my mentor. He advises me a lot on how to run routes and what the quarterbacks and defensive backs are looking for," Sanders said.

What the Jaguars are looking for is improvement after a dismal 2-14 season. Positions are unsettled, including those that affect Sanders at receiver and punt returner. He is in battling in both spots, and Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley says every position is open, which makes Sanders happy to be there.

"Jacksonville is good for me. It's close to home, and it's a slow city, which is right for rookies. There are not a lot of distractions. But I am just learning everything from scratch, and my goal right now is just to make the team," Sanders said.

Most of the anxiety came before the draft, when Sanders wasn't sure he was going to declare himself eligible after his junior year at South Carolina. He wanted to, but his parents were hoping he would finish his senior year.

"We had a lot of apprehension and were being cautious. You never know who is going to like you and going back to college was the safe bet, but Ace kept saying, 'You know my dream is to play in the NFL,'" Tracy Sanders said.

Ace Sanders receiving the MVP award in the Outback Bowl and reading over the scouting reports got Tracy and his wife, Twanda, to buy into their son's wishes.

"All the scouting reports criticized Ace for his size (about 5-foot-8) and we said that's one thing we can't do anything about. It stopped me from giving him the spiel about staying in school," Tracy said. "I just told Ace, 'Promise your mom you will finish school' if he wanted her blessing. He did and now we are all in this full speed."

The scouts say Ace Sanders doesn't have tremendous speed, but is quick. As a former defensive back, the elder Sanders says as a receiver it's better to be quick than fast.

"Quick is being able to get out of the way of the defenders and get open. Fast is being able to outrun them. Ace manages to wiggle his way around where no one can get a solid hit on him, and the scouts love that about him," Tracy Sanders said. "His combine speed wasn't anything they were excited about, but the scouts were overwhelmed by his shiftiness and what he did after the catch."

Sanders might have a chance to get on the field early as a receiver. Justin Blackmon, perhaps the Jags' top receiver, has been suspended for the first four games of the season after violating the NFL's substance abuse program. That opens a door for someone.

Though there is a rookie wage scale in place, certain things can be negotiated, such as the amount of signing bonuses.

Sanders, the 101st pick this year's draft, has yet to sign his contract and doesn't want to talk about it.

For reference purposes, the 101st pick in 2012, Denver cornerback Omar Boldin, received a $474,428 signing bonus on a contact that had a total value of $2.6 million over four years.

"I don't know when I am signing. I let my agent handle that. Hopefully things will be sorted out before training camp opens (on July 25th)," Sanders said.

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