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Broncos Notebook: Why a Week 1 focus could keep Denver's starters out of preseason games

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Practice makes perfect.

And it may also render the Broncos' remaining preseason games less important.

Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett reiterated his feelings about playing starters in the preseason, and it feels increasingly likely that a number of the Broncos' most important players could see little to no action over the final two weeks of the tune-up slate.

"You know me — I don't like the preseason," Hackett said Tuesday. "That's just my philosophy, my upbringing after just seeing all the different things that I've seen in the past. There's always that risk-reward. I think we would all sit here and say, 'Sure, we want the guys to go out there, do good and get reps.' In the end, we want to be smart with the guys. It's a 17-game season."

Just four of the Broncos' 22 starters across their offense and defense appeared in their first preseason game, and presumptive starter Jonas Griffith suffered an elbow injury that is expected to keep him out four-to-six weeks.

The preseason certainly serves a purpose, as it provides invaluable reps for inexperienced players and those looking to earn a roster spot. But in Hackett's eyes, the value may not extend as much to the starting unit.

Hackett explained Tuesday that the reps the Broncos get in practice can be just as valuable as preseason action — and it can come in a more controlled environment.

"Yes," Hackett said when asked if practice is as effective. "[It's] how we try to protect the guys and get them ready so that they can come out there and play at the highest level. That's what we're aiming for. Those practices — we want to be more efficient, better, faster and just as game-like as possible. I think that's what we're trying to create. The more that they do that, the better."

Through training camp, Hackett has seen his starters respond and approach practice in a way that allows them to get the work that they need in order to be ready for Week 1.

"Now if it gets bad or anything like that, then we might have to throw them in the games," Hackett joked. "In this situation, I think they have all stepped up to that challenge. I think they've done a great job."

Hackett has yet to announce which players will take the field in Buffalo on Saturday, but he previously noted that quarterback Russell Wilson doesn't necessarily need to play because of his experience.

And as he noted Tuesday, his philosophy may lead him away from playing the team's starters much, if at all. Hackett said he's seen teams that have pushed too hard in practice and those that haven't pushed hard enough. Ultimately, his views on the preseason stem from the methods of Rams head coach Sean McVay — who has made it to two Super Bowls despite almost exclusively holding his starters out of the preseason — and his former boss, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. In Green Bay, the Packers employ a similar strategy as the Rams, in which many key starters don't play a single preseason snap.

"I think it really opened my eyes because of how healthy we were able to be," Hackett said of his time in Green Bay. "In the end, that's what we're trying to do as coaches. We want them to prepare for that Week 1. That's all that matters to me."

THE DARKSIDE

Defensive tackle D.J. Jones dove into the inspiration behind the defensive line's new moniker, "The Darkside."

"Some people like to go onto the field happy-go-lucky and cool, but we're in the trenches," Jones said. "It's not pretty down there. You don't know what you're going to get. You might get 40 double teams in a game. You have to go somewhere where you know you're going to defeat those double teams. Your mind has to be somewhere where you've never been all week and you have to prepare yourself for a battle. Every Sunday, Monday, Thursday or whenever they decide they want to put the ball down, you have to go to a dark place."

Jones said on the field, he locks in, becomes much quieter and barely speaks to his opponent as he prepares to play a physical brand of football. The switch then flips for him as soon as he makes contact with an offensive lineman.

"I think that first play gets me there," Jones said. "Before the game starts, I might be jumping around. But when I first put my hands on somebody, I'm locked in. … It's very hard to explain, but I'm not the same person. I'll tell you that much."

"… You know how artists have a different stage presence? For instance, I know my sisters love Beyonce. She turns into Sasha Fierce or something like that. … I turn into David. I'm not D.J. no more. I turn into somebody else.

When a reporter cracked that the transformation sounds like Bobby Boucher's in "The Waterboy," Jones let out a big laugh.

"I wish I could play like The Waterboy," he joked.

BATTLING WITH SURTAIN

Wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton have had near-daily tests against cornerback Pat Surtain II, and Jeudy said Tuesday he can feel himself getting better when he competes against the talented cornerback.

"I love going against Pat because he's a great DB," Jeudy said. "He has great size and great speed, so he really helps me work on my technique. Going against him, I really have to focus on the little details to make sure I get open. Going against him makes me a lot better."

Asked how he thinks Surtain will compare to the other cornerbacks he'll face this year, Jeudy didn't hesitate.

"As good or probably [the] best," he said.

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