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"New team, new year, new season": Broncos expecting a different animal in Panthers

Sam Cowhick Avatar
September 5, 2016

 

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Last time the Broncos hit the field for a meaningful game it was possibly the most important one of the franchise. They shocked the world, defeating the Carolina Panthers 24-10. It was a marvelous moment for Denver and one that will never be forgotten. This week, though, as they face that oh-so-familiar foe, it’s time to put the glorious win behind them.

“We let all of that go. This is a new team, new year, new season,” head coach Gary Kubiak said adamantly on Sunday. “We’re studying from what [the Carolina Panthers have] done this year; I’m sure they’re doing the same thing. We have to stay focused on this time around. We don’t talk about [Super Bowl 50] at all, to be honest with you.”

But when you look on paper it is hard not to think of the last time the Broncos faced the Panthers. Carolina has stayed almost entirely intact since they played on that fateful night in Santa Clara. Their offense, in particular, is returning every single starter from the Super Bowl with one big change. Super Bowl starter, wide receiver Devin Funchess will take a backseat to then injured, former rookie sensation Kelvin Benjamin.

“I think that they’ll definitely utilize [Benjamin] more,” linebacker Brandon Marshall admitted Sunday. “He’s one of Cam’s favorite targets when he’s in there. They didn’t have him last time, they couldn’t lean on him. They tried to lean on ‘88’ [TE] Greg Olsen, so I think that they’ll definitely try to involve him.”

The Panthers will begin the 2016 season as favorites by many to return to the Super Bowl due to their talented and intact roster. 2015 MVP Cam Newton will have all his weapons back and play behind all five of his returning lineman, creating a very potent offense. The Broncos defense, great in their own right, is returning almost as many starters from February.

Thursday night, the Broncos will return 9-of-11 starters from Super Bowl 50, and they certainly know that ignoring their preparation and film from the last meeting would be foolish.

“You can take a lot,” cornerback Aqib Talib said Sunday when asked about the last meeting’s impacts this week. “I kept my notes from last year, so it’s pretty much a lot of the similar stuff, a lot of the same offense. As far as game planning, you can take a lot from what we did preparing for the Super Bowl.”

Marshall agrees with his teammate but also noted that Carolina will certainly have learned from the last game as well and come back with different looks.

“Yes, they’re returning 18 starters, same coaching staff, and same players, really. I think you could use a lot from that game, but you’d be fools to think that they’re going to run the same plays,” he declared.

The Denver offense is, by far, the biggest personnel change that will take part in Thursday’s game. The offensive line, in particular, is returning just two starters from the Super Bowl, Michael Schofield (LT) will play at right guard, and Matt Paradis will be back at center. The team will also have new starters at quarterback, both tight end positions, both tackle positions and Max Garcia, who played a lot of snaps in 2015 will take over full-time at left guard.

The Broncos’ newest starting quarterback, Trevor Siemian, understands the challenge for the offense to get the game plan hammered down before Thursday.

“We’re pretty busy here,” he said Sunday. “We’re working pretty hard in the building, so I think as a team, we’re all excited. We’re excited to get the ball rolling. It’s a Thursday night game. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us and a great challenge. I think everybody is ready for it, and we’re all excited.”

The Panthers limited personnel turnover comes on defense. They are returning seven starters on defense, six-of-seven of them are on the front seven. They are a formidable defense, one that Siemian has been studying thoroughly.

“They’re really good up front in their front seven,” he stated. “It starts with [ILB] Luke [Kuechly]. He runs the show, and he’s a heck of a player. On the defensive line, they have good players, good effort, a good rush, and they’re athletic on the back end. It’s a good scheme with good players. They’re a heck of a defense.”

The Broncos may be able to take advantage of the newcomers on defense. The Panthers two projected starting cornerbacks and free safety are very inexperienced. Free safety Tre Boston is a third-year player with six starts under his belt while both cornerbacks, Daryl Worley and James Bradberry are both rookies.

However familiar or different the game may feel to each individual player, the anticipation of the season is universal. The juxtaposition of watching the last meeting on film or moving on to 2016 will be futile come Thursday evening. The rematch is not only the start of these two teams’ season, it starts the entire NFL’s year, and two big leaders on the Broncos are more than ready.

“We’re the only game on—eyes all on us,” safety T.J. Ward said emphatically on Sunday. “We’re just going to go out there and play our brand of football, Broncos football and come away with a W.”

His teammate in the defensive backfield quickly echoed those remarks.

“The game can’t come soon enough,” Chris Harris Jr. said Sunday. “It’s time. It’s that time. It’s that perfect week, and we want to start it 1-0, especially at home defending our home turf.”

The countdown is on.

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