ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's a point of pride for the Broncos that they possess a fair amount of experienced depth. At most position groups, they have at least one backup who has substantial experience as a starter.
But only one of them started all 16 games for the Broncos last season: Mike Adams. One of the most valuable insurance policies on the roster, he's back in the starting lineup again after Rahim Moore went on injured reserve because of compartment syndrome in his lower left leg.
"This is not my first barbecue, so I'll be ready," Adams said.
In replacing Moore, Adams will fill a slightly different role than the one he handled last year, when he played alongside him.
"Rahim is our deep middle guy and being able to replace him with Mike, Mike is going to have to come down and make those open-field tackles that Rahim was making," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "Being able to track the ball deep, that's something that we'll have to replace and I think Mike will do a good job with it."
The first challenge is arguably the most daunting one of the season for the Broncos' safeties: to contain Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is healthy and expected to play after grappling with injuries most of the season.
"Gronkowski: great player," Adams said. "I mean, we've just got to play our game. I don't want to go into this game thinking something different or approach him differently.
"It's no secret I'll be on him a little bit, and I'm going to challenge him, and I'm pretty sure he's up for the challenge."
He won't always work alone against Gronkowski. Other defensive backs, including fellow safety Duke Ihenacho, will be involved.
It was clear Sunday after Adams replaced Moore that the two safeties communicate as well as Ihenacho and Moore did, which eases the transition. But the connection between Adams and Ihenacho runs a bit deeper, and is a testament to what develops in a locker room that is more harmonious than most others.
In some situations where a young player usurps the veteran, discord festers. But Adams handled his reduced role with grace and intelligence, knowing that the team's task was bigger than himself, and that the odds were in his favor that he would start again at some point, because of injuries.
A mentor-protégé relationship developed between Adams and Ihenacho. They bonded through the shared experience of being undrafted and having to fight to prove their place in a crowded locker room.
Adams' lessons to Ihenacho were simple, yet profound.
"I learned how to just go to the next play and just play your game and be true to who you are," Ihenacho said. "I think that's what Mike has taught me and I think I got that from him -- he's a perfect example. He was a free agent like myself so obviously I lean towards him when I need advice or need to figure out something."
The growth in Ihenacho has been obvious to anyone who watches the Broncos closely, but what Adams sees is the second-year safety's ability to put errors behind him.
"He's definitely growing. He's definitely a pro, so I'd don't worry about Duke. He goes hard," said Adams. "He makes his little mistakes, but who doesn't? We all make mistakes, but one thing about him is when he makes mistakes he goes hard and you can't really tell it's a mistake."
Ihenacho plays with more electricity than a lightning strike. Moore had a different style, and Adams is similar. That, plus Adams' experience, should make this transition the smoothest one possible.
"I think Mike will step up," Ihenacho said. "Mike has been a starter, so I don't expect any drop-off."