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'You have to be a short-order cook': Broncos ready to go for Week 1 despite lack of preseason games

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' Week 1 preparations have been anything but traditional.

Denver — like every team across the league — is getting ready for its season opener without the benefit of an in-person offseason program or preseason games. As the Broncos prepare to face the Titans' 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back, Derrick Henry, they also haven't had many opportunities to practice tackling.

But as Denver begins its game-week preparations, Head Coach Vic Fangio said he liked the Broncos' odds of serving up a successful product.

"Obviously we all wish we had more time, had some preseason games, but sometimes you have to be a short-order cook," Fangio said Tuesday. "That's what we have to be here — maybe do a little Chef Boyardee instead of the homemade stuff. We'll be ready to go. I feel good about what we'll put out there. Hopefully it passes."

The last time the Broncos faced the Titans, their defensive performance was James Beard Award-worthy. Denver shut out Tennessee 16-0 in Week 6 and held Henry to just 28 yards on 15 carries. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota in the second half of that contest, though, and the Titans' fortunes changed as they went on a run to the AFC Championship Game.

"Their team really changed once Tannehill got in there," Fangio said. "They won nine of their last 14 games, including two playoff games on the road. He just became very, very efficient. He had the highest quarterback rating in the league. They threw it well. Obviously, their offense was built around the running game. The quarterback took great use of that. He's a good boot[leg] player in the passing game. He's good in the play[-action]-pass game, a really good scrambler. I just think he is the guy that, once he got in there, their offense really took shape."

Henry, though, remains the focal point of the team's offense. He rushed for 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and he then added 446 yards and two touchdowns in three postseason games.

"I think it's going to be [key] for us to get multiple guys to the ball," safety Kareem Jackson said. "We know what type of guy he is, seeing as though we played against him last year. I think their team is a totally different team from when we played them to what they are now. He's a totally different runner from what he was then to how he finished up the year last year. For us, the key is going to be getting multiple hats to the ball. We can't rely on one guy to get him down. He's a big guy and he can run. He has great vision and they have a great offensive line as well. We have to get multiple guys to the ball. We have to make sure we wrap up and make the for-sure tackle."

Despite the lack of live reps, Jackson isn't worried about he and his teammates' ability to handle the powerful running back.

"I think we're fine with our personnel," Jackson said. "I have a ton of confidence in the group that we have and on Monday night we'll have to execute. I have a ton of confidence that we'll go out and execute and do what's necessary for us to win."

If Denver can slow Tennessee's running game, the Broncos will certainly put a big al dente in the Titans' hopes of winning.

CUSHENBERRY NAMED BRONCOS' STARTING CENTER

The Broncos released their initial depth chart on Monday, and rookie Lloyd Cushenberry III was listed as the team's starting center. He is expected to be just the second Broncos rookie to be the Week 1 starter at center since at least 1970. Cushenberry would join 2010 third-round pick J.D. Walton in that group, and he earned that opportunity because of both his play and his potential.

"He just kept improving," Fangio said. "It was a close battle all through camp. We just think that he's ready for it and he'll keep improving and learn by playing. A little bit of this is [using a] crystal ball, [in] that we think he'll keep improving and develop into a good center. That's part of it."

Cushenberry, though, doesn't view earning the Week 1 job as an end point. Rather, it's just the beginning of what he hopes is a lengthy career.

"Winning the starting job, it was obviously a goal of mine coming in," Cushenberry said. "It's not the end. It's just the beginning. The work's just starting. I have to work 10 times harder to keep the starting job and show that I belong here. ... This is only the beginning. Now I'm ready to go out there and prove that I belong."

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