Ten things about the Broncos entering Sunday’s opener at the New York Giants:
1. Might inside linebacker Justin Strnad have a sub-package role in his NFL debut? The only way to find out if he’s up to the task in coverage is to give him a shot. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said Strnad was “fine” in coverage in the preseason. “He’s the type of player you need as the game’s going on,” Donatell said. “There’s more space, there’s more (to) cover.”
2. Rookie Pat Surtain II learned cornerback (outside), nickel and dime in the preseason. Since he played only one snap of dime (none in nickel), the Broncos must have some wrinkles they kept to themselves over the last few weeks. I asked Fangio what about the learning was foreign to Surtain. “Any time he’s not playing corner,” Vic said. “When you’re playing the fifth or sixth (defensive back), those are essentially linebacker positions. When you’re playing zone, he had to learn how to play zones that corners have no idea how to play. When he’s playing man, he’s covering guys from areas (in tighter quarters) that corners don’t cover from. They’re all drastically different.”
3. My two favorite notes from reporting a story on Broncos executive director of football operations Kelly Kleine last week. Her brother Eric’s reaction when she told him she was moving into scouting for the Vikings? “Wow. Awesome. Full-time job,” he said. And up until 2019, Kleine would watch Vikings home games in a box reserves for scouts, but after the game, would volunteer to attend coach Mike Zimmer’s press conference and transcribe the quotes for the media.
4. Surtain is among the preseason favorites for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. “You can’t really look forward to those expectations,” he said. “You just have to focus on team goals and team goals come before individual goals.”
5. The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks will be recognized before the game and the date has brought back memories of the Sept, 10, 2001, game in Denver. Less than 12 hours after the Broncos’ victory, the World Trade Centers were attacked. Airports nationwide were closed, leaving Giants reporters stuck in Denver. So they drove cross-country. I reached out to Bob Glauber, then and now the NFL columnist for Newsday, for his memories of that trip.
6. Glauber was in his Denver hotel room when his wife called. By the time he turned on the television, both towers had been hit. “I’m just sitting there watching in horror and I kept thinking, ‘That’s my city, my city,’” he said. “At one point, when the first tower fell, I just broke down and cried.” His initial plan was to stay in Denver until the airports re-opened, “which meant possibly flying back Thursday or Friday.”
7. Four colleagues decided to rent a car and began the drive back to New Jersey late on the night of Sept. 11. Along with colleagues Ralph Vacchiano (New York Daily News) and Paul Needell (Newark Star-Ledger), Glauber decided to rent a car on the morning of Sept. 12 and head east. Needell was at the beginning stages of multiple sclerosis, but had not been diagnosed yet (he died in 2015) and his vision was impaired, leaving the driving to Vacchiano and Glauber. The trio stopped overnight in St. Louis and Indianapolis before making it back to New Jersey. As they approached the Newark Airport, they could see the “smoldering remnants of the World Trade Center. … Very jarring and just hit home how real it all was.”
8. Broncos president/CEO Joe Ellis said he and owner Pat Bowlen were flying to New York for a league meeting when their plane turned around to return to Denver. “Seeing the pictures on television when we got back to the hangar, that will forever be etched in my memory,” Ellis said. “I thought the league, under (commissioner) Paul Tagliabue’s direction that year, did a great job in trying to give fans hope and the public hope and some enthusiasm and excitement at a time that was very difficult for our country.”
9. Back to Sunday’s game. Under Fangio, the Broncos have 33 takeaways in 32 games (1.03 average). This year’s goal? “We’d definitely like to get 2-3 a game,” he said. Pittsburgh (38), New England (36) and Seattle (32) averaged at least two per game in 2019; no team did in 2020. During Fangio’s final year running Chicago’s defense, the Bears had an NFL-high 36 (2.25 average).
10. The storyline of stinking in September (0-7 the last two years) can start to be erased with a win over the Giants. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said starting better was first addressed way back in the spring. “You want to change the narrative around here and we get an opportunity to do that this Sunday,” he said.
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