ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** Brandon Marshall is set to make his first career NFL start in the first game of the season, and with any luck, he'll be able to add a good memory of his first NFL start on top of the one from his first collegiate start.
He had a good feeling that day. Specifically, it was between the second and third play. Nevada was facing Grambling State and Marshall was making his starting debut after redshirting his first year.
For whatever reason, he just knew something good would happen on the next play. Knowing where his family was in the stands, Marshall pointed to his cousin. Grambling State then hiked the ball, and looked to pass. The ball was thrown, it was tipped and the next thing Marshall knew, it was in his hands. After a 22-yard return, the Wolf Pack took over on offense at Grambling State's 7-yard line.
But that was six years ago. In that time, Marshall was drafted by Jacksonville, waived and then picked up by the Broncos a year ago for the practice squad. After a year toiling in the background and fighting to stay in the league, Marshall will make his first career start.
The Colts present a different beast than Grambling State, as you might guess.
For Marshall, the key is preparation. He said after practice Thursday that he's glad to have the coaching staff's trust, and now his focus has turned to the game.
With Andrew Luck behind center on the other side of the line, Marshall has a big challenge. However, he's done his homework.
"You have to know his tendencies. He's more of a step-up type of quarterback instead of spinning out or running around like, say, a Kaepernick or Russell Wilson," he said. "You gotta know that. He does have a strong arm and he can run the ball. They don't run a lot of read-option, but he will keep the ball if they actually get into it. So you just have to know his tendencies, what he likes to do."
That's easier said than done, but with the help of the revamped Broncos defense, they're poised to be better against the pass and the rush, which was already the seventh-best against the run last season.
Wednesday, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton talked about how his focus is on getting a good push in the running game, which in turn helps open up the pass rush. This can take some pressure off the linebackers, and Marshall is well aware of the gift that is.
"[Knighton] makes it real easy, because half the time he takes up two blockers. Half the time, you're not going to single-block him. He has to demand a double-team. So with him right there, you can flow more freely and you don't have to be so run-conscious. Just having him and Sly (Sylvester Williams) and Mitch [Unrein] and Marvin [Austin] in the middle helps out tremendously," Marshall said.
At this point, most of the preparation is done. Marshall knows his strengths and how they can plug into the defense. "I'm a playmaker, I always find myself around the ball," he said. "As long as I do my job, I'll be good."
The first game of the season is often a memorable one, offering young players a 'Welcome to the NFL' moment.
Take a look at the best shots from Thursday's practice at Dove Valley.
For cornerback Aqib Talib, it was the sheer magnitude of the moment that he remembers most. "It was the Atlanta game," he said. "That dome was so loud, it was my first NFL game — It was just a whole other ball game than college. I'll never forget that experience."
It's a game of refreshed beginnings, really. Aside from Marshall, there are plenty of starters making their first regular season starts since injuries sidelined them during last season, or their first regular season starts as Broncos, for some others. And for a few others, it's their first regular season game, period.
Though their roles might not be as big as the starters, young guys like cornerback Bradley Roby, wide receiver Isaiah Burse and running back Juwan Thompson all eagerly await their debuts. For Burse and Thompson, who expect to see more time in special teams, they're just willing to do whatever the team needs.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has given the younger guys some words of advice from experience: "You gotta expect some adversity to happen. It's gonna happen. The other team is going to make a play so just try to keep everybody cool and calm to know that we have to bounce back when we have a bad play. A lot of times those cats haven't been through that under the lights, so that's something I try to explain to them."
In this new look Broncos defense, a lot has changed and some major additions from the offseason will be making their debuts, too.
Talib, safety T.J. Ward and defensive end DeMarcus Ware will all make their first regular season showings as Broncos, which will finally give a complete view of what the defense will look like with them added into the mix. "It's just been talk and talk and talk and talk, and now we finally get a chance to go out there and play," Talib said.
With Sunday Night Football in town for the prime-time game, the stage is bigger and brighter, which can make for a very memorable season opener for many players, especially the ones who are embarking on a new journey with a bigger role or in coming to a new team.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders perhaps put it best: "I'm extremely excited. Sunday Night Football — What better environment to be in? Broncos Country is going to come out and the stadium is going to be loud. It's everything that we worked for the past seven months so I know everybody's excited about it."