Week 1: Players to watch

Training camp is over, final rosters have been confirmed and fans have selected their fantasy lineups for the forthcoming season. That has been just about the most 'normal' sentence I have written about the Broncos in the entirety of 2020. The most abnormal pre season in NFL history  has come and gone, as teams have adapted to the 'new normal' in the age of the global pandemic. Football starts again this week, painfully Broncos country has to wait a few days more than Chiefs and Texans supporters do to open the season. Fans in Europe are also facing the prospect of a kick off in the early hours of Tuesday morning (0320 here in Wales). 

So let's examine the key players who the Broncos will need to perform well to open the season with a win in Nashville, against the Titans. Last season the Broncos secured a 16-0 win over the Titans, which saw the end of Marcus Mariota's career as starting Quarterback under Mike Vrabel. Eventually the Titans reached the AFC championship game against Kansas City, after Derrick Henry had inspired them to victory in the earlier stages of the playoffs. I have identified three players whose performances will be critical for Broncos success this week. 

Mike Purcell

The Colorado native was signed from the alliance of American football league last season, he had an immediate impact on the Broncos ability to stop opposing teams run game. Purcell came into the team in week 5 of the 2019 season, a week after Leonard Fournette had run for 225 yards against the Broncos. The Titans have Derrick Henry at Running back who comes into 2020 in a rich vein of form, having had his breakout season in 2019. Henry ended up with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, He carried the team on his back last year and was rewarded with a Four year $50 million contract in July 2020. 

The Broncos will look at introducing Purcell into the Defensive line to halt Henry and stifle the Titans offense. Purcell will look for counsel from the next player in this article to gain some inside information on the Titans scheme and patterns. 

Jurell Casey 

When you spend 9 years with a franchise there is little you don't know about the mentality and nuances of the coaching staff and playing personnel,  especially when you've been up against the offense every day in training. Five time Pro Bowler Casey was traded to Denver during the off season for a 7th round draft pick and will look to pass on his extensive knowledge of the Titans in the build up to this game. Casey will have no sense of loyalty left to the Titans, Casey described feeling that he had been 'thrown away like a piece of trash' by the organisation when he was traded to the Broncos. 

Casey has run stopping ability himself and will want to bank on the notion that the Titans will not have changed their game plan extensively through the disrupted summer, to allow him a chance to impress on his Broncos debut. As well as the opportunity to enhance Purcell's game, Casey will want to take attention away from Von Miller who will want to hit the ground running after his ineffective start to 2019. Miller is in great shape and will want a disrupting influence on his inside to give him some opportunities to find 1:1 matchups against offensive linemen. Casey is the key defensive lineman for the Broncos in week one.

Garrett Bolles

The offense has had some serious renovation since 2019 with Melvin Gordon being signed and Jerry Jeudy being drafted along with KJ Hamler and Albert Okwuegbunam. Broncos fans are excited about the weapons Drew Lock has at his disposal, but he needs to be allowed sufficient time to make his reads and execute plays. This places an enormous amount of responsibility on Bolles who heads into his 4th season, with the added motivation of the Broncos declining the option of extending his contract for a 5th season. This has been mainly due to his sub par performances where he has been heavily penalised for holding which has killed offensive momentum at times. Bolles has been flagged 41 times in 45 career games although not all of these have been for holding. As he heads into his second season under the guidance of Mike Munchak , with a contract to play for Bolles will want to prove his doubters wrong. 

Bolles can enhance his reputation by keeping the Titans pass rushers away from Lock and his running backs, Jadeveon Clowney has landed in Nashville and will look to secure his long term future with the Titans after signing a one year $12 million contract. Bolles will want to take advantage of Clowney signing so late into the pre season and will hope that Clowney is not operating at full game speed yet. This will buy valuable time for Lock to steer the ship. 

I for one can't wait to immerse myself into the season I thought would never materialise. The excitement has been building since Draft night in April, and the players will be chomping at the bit to line up in a competitive game for the first time in 2020. Health and safety is obviously still paramount, as such there will be no fans in attendance at Broncos games for the foreseeable future. But any Football is a bonus at the moment and I appreciate live sport even more post lockdown.

I will be back next week to look ahead to the key players ahead of our next matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I would like to send my best wishes to Broncos Country as the winter storm approaches and the Fires continue to burn. Stay safe!