Key players to watch as the Broncos battle the Chargers on ‘MNF’

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Aug 26, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) during the second quarter of a the preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The day is finally here: with a national, ‘Monday Night Football’ audience watching, the Denver Broncos open the 2017 regular season against the visiting Los Angeles Chargers, following an offseason filled with drama, excitement and anticipation.

As the Broncos look to match the already-victorious Chiefs and Raiders with a win in their opener, there are some players to watch, specifically with regard to forecasting what the 2017 season could have in store for the team heading forward:

Garett Bolles, LT

Bolles has a lot on his plate as he gears up for his first-ever regular-season NFL game. Not only is he playing the most important position on the offensive line as a rookie, but the Broncos are depending on him to play at a high level right away as the team starts its quest to join the playoffs.

As a first-round draft pick out of Utah, Bolles has shown promise during the preseason. But he will have his hands full with elite pass-rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Bolles’ intensity on and off the field is admirable, and a strong performance tonight would build confidence in the notion  that the Broncos have found their left tackle of the future.

Jamaal Charles, RB

Every fan is curious to see what Charles might add to the offense. During the preseason, he provided a small taste of what he still has left in the tank, and it remains to be seen how offensive coordinator Mike McCoy plans on using Charles in conjunction with starting running back C.J. Anderson.

Charles’ ability to contribute as a receiver out of the backfield will only bolster the Broncos’ offense if their ground game can’t gain consistent traction against the Chargers’ defense. How much Charles will be used — and how much he can contribute — will be key things to watch for that could set the tone for the rest of the season.

Demaryius Thomas, WR

During the offseason, head coach Vance Joseph challenged Thomas to take charge this year, stating simply: “It’s time.”

Thomas is expected to show the NFL that he’s still a dominant receiver after what some called a ‘down’ year in 2016; his total receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns all decreased from 2015, which was quarterback Peyton Manning’s final season. The entire offense doesn’t fall squarely on Thomas’ shoulders, but after recently being voted a team captain for 2017, the time is now for Thomas to lead the Broncos’ offense and help mold it into a playoff-caliber unit.

The No-Fly Zone

This is a bit of a cheat, but even after the shocking release of safety T.J. Ward, the Broncos believe that they can contend for a playoff spot as long as their ‘No-Fly Zone’ secondary remains intact. How the Broncos’ defense plays with their altered secondary against the Chargers could go a long way towards answering that question..

Replacing the departed Ward is second-year safety Justin Simmons, who has played particularly well in the preseason. So well, in fact, that the Broncos felt confident in his ability enough to move on from Ward. Realistically, the Broncos should be fine, as long as All-Pro corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. continue to play at an elite level.

Adam Gotsis, DE

The time is now for Adam Gotsis to rise to the challenge.

While so much has already been said about the team’s mid-round draft selections failing to claim starting roles over the past few seasons, Gotsis continued that trend when he didn’t land a starting spot along the defensive line this year, though it’s worth noting that Gotsis missed most of the offseason with injury. With starting defensive end Jared Crick and nose tackle Zach Kerr out for Monday’s game, Gotsis should see an increase in reps along the defensive line, giving the former second-round the opportunity to rise to the occasion on one of the NFL’s biggest stages.

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