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Players amped up to start 'real' football

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After four months of practices and preseason games, the Denver Broncos are chomping at the bit to take the field and play games that count.

Andy Lyons

There was a common word after Broncos' practice yesterday that came out of the mouth of every player, and usually more than once - excited.

Though the media wanted to talk about a certain wide receiver, the players were jumping to talk about Sunday.

Sunday Night Football, that is.

We're just excited, period. If you're not excited about football, something is wrong.   -Terrance Knighton, team captain

"To open up the season, Sunday night, the whole world watching, there's no better stage," said defensive tackle and team captain Terrance Knighton. "We're just excited, period. If you're not excited about football, something is wrong."

You're preaching to the choir, Pot Roast. Nothing wrong here.

This will be the third year the Broncos have opened the regular season on SNF, and the players understand what kind of big deal that is.

"I think it's an honor," said Peyton Manning of the Broncos' three-year appearance on the primetime game.

Manning considers it a playoff-type atmosphere, and that's an atmosphere he's been waiting months to be in. "I am tired of talking; I am looking forward to playing some real football."

As you might expect, Manning is not alone. The rest of the Broncos are chomping at the bit to run out of the tunnel at Mile High this weekend and start playing games that count.

Cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. hasn't played since his injury during the playoffs last season, and he can hardly stand it.

"It's been so long since I stepped on the field and went full go," he said Wednesday, adding that he feels great. "So I'm just ready to hit somebody. I've been waiting to hit somebody and just turn into a monster out there. That's what I'm waiting for."

I'm just ready to hit somebody. I've been waiting to hit somebody and just turn into a monster out there.   -Chris Harris, Jr., cornerback.

You and about a million Broncos fans, Chris. Do it. Turn into a monster and watch Mile High Stadium embrace you like a lost puppy.

Fellow cornerback Aqib Talib - who will be sporting orange and blue for the first regular season in his football career - has yet to experience such a primetime spotlight for the first game.

"I don't think that I've opened up a season in primetime like this. It might be a first for me," Talib said. "I'm very excited. We've been doing a bunch of talk, so we're ready to get to it."

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders - also a new Bronco this year but one who has fully incorporated the Mile High Salute into his game - says he is "extremely excited."

"Sunday Night Football. What better environment to be in?" Sanders said. "Broncos Country is going to come out and the stadium is going to be loud. It's everything that we worked for the past seven months, so I know everybody's excited about it."

Von Miller certainly is, though the linebacker admitted to also being a little nervous.

"I am extra fired up. I haven't played an opener in two years, so I'm looking forward to going out there and playing. I was super nervous in the preseason game, so that's something I've been trying to work on," he said. "I'm definitely excited about it. There's nowhere else I'd want to be. SundayNight Football, and it's for all the marbles."

Julius Thomas noted it may feel like Christmas Eve for the fans, but the players have been getting after it for months now, and they just want to do it for real.

"We've been standing out here in the sun for months and months working, growing as a team," said the tight end. "So we're looking forward to getting out there and getting the games that count."

And this one will most certainly count.

Despite all the offseason talk about the depth of the Broncos roster and the fortifications made on defense, the test comes Sunday night, and it won't be easy.

Although Indianapolis will be without the services of pass rushing menace Robert Mathis, and though quarterback Andrew Luck has a bunch of backups protecting him, the Colts are expected to be a major threat in the AFC again this year.

And that's how the Broncos are treating them.

Rookies like Isaiah Burse and Bradley Roby may get to experience a primetime home opener early in their career as both are likely to see playing time.

Burse, an undrafted free agent who will most likely be used to return punts, doesn't care how the Broncos plug him into the game. The former Fresno State Bulldog is ready to contribute against a tough team.

"I take [punt returns] very seriously - take care of the ball and just try to be electric back there," said Burse, adding that nothing has changed now that he made the team, other than that his locker is in a different place. "I just want to help the team, whatever phase it's in, and stay focused."

Focus is the key on a big night with a lot of adrenaline pumping, especially for rookies and young players without a lot of experience in primetime games.

Roby sees it more as a challenge - and one that he relishes.

"I'm more excited than jittery," the Broncos' No. 1 draft pick said. "This is my first chance to go out there and really play against top guys throughout the whole game. I'm excited. Luck's strong and he has a good arm. It's going to be fun going against him."

At 6'3" 235 pounds, Manning's successor in Indy is a formidable opponent on his own. Give the two-time Pro Bowler a couple of outstanding receivers like T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks, and he's downright dangerous.

"Luck does a great job understanding defenses and coverages, and he's taken control of the offense. That's what it's all about," said Moore, who played against Luck in college too. "It's going to be tough task. If we don't come ready to play, it'll be ugly."

Everybody's been talking about us on paper, but now it's time to stop talking...We've got to bring our A-game, and we know that.   -Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver

But the players assure us it won't be ugly - at least not for the Broncos.

"We just want to go out and prove that we improved as a group," Knighton said, speaking specifically of the beefed-up defense. "We want to set a standard for how we play, and we want to go out and play fast and have something to build off of."

The good news is that while we have been talking depth charts and roster spots, the  players have already set the standard and been building on it.

"Everybody's been talking about us on paper, but now it's time to stop the talking and let the pads talk for ourselves and the scoreboard to speak for ourselves," Sanders said. "We've got to bring our A-Game, and we know that. It's always fun to start off the season because you start to see what we really have here."

Anybody else in Broncos Country excited?