*ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – *Their careers begin Thursday night at Soldier Field.
Lost in the shuffle of a quarterback competition and the reintegration of Von Miller is that Thursday marks the beginning of NFL careers for dozens of players on the Broncos' roster.
Rookie safety Will Parks is among those who will don his pads in the NFL for the first time. He explained how he expects his schedule – and his emotions – to play out ahead of the Broncos' game against the Bears.
One thing is for sure: This won't just be another game for Parks.
"Am I nervous?" Parks said. "Yeah, I'm really nervous. … I'm nervous, but I'm excited. It's an excited nervous. So many kids dream of this opportunity, and I can go out there and showcase what I can do at that stage. It's a dream come true to me."
Wednesday night, team hotel:
Parks doesn't expect to sleep much on Wednesday night, and he joked that he may need to take Benadryl to get a few hours of rest before his career begins on Thursday evening at Soldier Field.
Fellow rookie safety Justin Simmons has roomed with him through rookie minicamp, OTAs and training camp. Parks expects that to stay the same come Wednesday. After the two finish reviewing the playbook for the final time, Parks said he isn't worried about keeping Simmons awake.
"He'll be alright," Parks said. "We've been roommates since we first got here. If he won't go to sleep, I'll put him to sleep."
Thursday morning, team hotel:
Before Parks plays in a game, he makes sure to have a phone conversation with his dad to help him relax. His dad, who is a youth football coach, might be Parks' biggest motivator.
"Even when I have good, great games, he's never satisfied with me," Parks said. "He always feels like I've got another level to reach. And that's how I feel too, so I'm pretty hard on myself, as well."
The conversations can last anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours, but it helps Parks relax ahead of the rush of energy he gets before a game. And after the last few weeks of training camp, during which Parks has had little time to himself, reconnecting with his dad will serve as a welcome distraction.
Pre-game, visitor's locker room at Soldier Field:**
When Parks gets to the locker room, his normal routine should return. He'll put on Meek Mill, Jay Z and Kanye West and get himself mad. He'll build that anger in the locker room, he said, but the energy will turn to joy when he's playing.
"Out on the field is where I smile the most," Parks said. "It's kind of different, I know."
Before he jogs out to join his teammates, though, he'll throw on the game uniform for the first time in a rather peculiar way. First the shoulder pads and jersey, then his pants. Despite the degree of difficulty, it's become another part of the rookie's routine.
Denver Broncos vs. Chicago Bears, Soldier Field:
During the game, he'll be back to relying on instinct and months of preparation. And with the starters presumably exiting the game early in the contest, Parks will rely on players like safety T.J. Ward to help him during extended playing time.
"I'm pretty sure T.J. is going to coach me up after every play, even on special teams, on regular defense and on dime packages," Parks said. "It doesn't matter what it is, he'll probably be one of my biggest critics out there. … If they see a mistake in me, they'll coach me up and I'll go out there and I'll fix it the next play."
Parks opened his college career four years ago at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats hosted the Toledo Rockets on Sept. 1, 2012 in front of just under 50,000 people.
The Broncos' preseason opener against Chicago won't have the same atmosphere as the Sept. 8 matchup with Carolina, but Parks said his college debut still won't compare to the first time he runs onto an NFL field.
"No, no, no," Parks said. "This is something different right here. This is for all the marbles. But I'm gonna go out there and play my game and relax."