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Denver Broncos | Broncos coach Sean Payton expects QB Russell Wilson, healthy players to play in preseason opener

Sean Payton called his shot all the way back in March and hasn’t changed his tune yet.

Broncos starters are going to see playing time in the preseason. Some may be held back next Friday at Arizona for the preseason opener if they’re dealing with injuries. Payton indicated a handful, like potentially running back Javonte Williams, may see time in the second or third weeks instead of right away as rehabilitations continue.

But most or all will play at some point and many will see time against the Cardinals.

“I haven’t shelled it out yet, but they’re going to play,” he said Saturday when asked about starters specifically. “We’ll figure out the snaps. We typically break the game into three phases, first, second and third phase and then special teams we might just have two phases, but we’ll have a plan, especially as we get into next week. I have a few notes written down.

“I don’t have a pitch count. I don’t have an exclusion list, if somebody has a leg injury that we (want to manage). But you can expect to see our guys play a little bit.”

Even quarterback Russell Wilson?

“Yeah, that would include him. He’s a player,” Payton deadpanned Saturday before cracking a bit of a smile.

The exact plan will come together over the coming days and, of course, depends some on how practice proceeds next week. The Broncos have essentially normal camp days Monday through Wednesday and then Payton said they will go through some Arizona-specific preparations on Thursday morning before the team charter later in the day.

Sanders a winner already. Rookie inside linebacker Drew Sanders already has a win under his belt.

The third-round pick this spring knew Payton was planning to give an award to the minicamp participant who gave the most cliched, boring interview to reporters in the locker room.

A coach’s kid, Sanders figured to be a strong contender and he delivered.

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On Saturday, he got asked who won.

“Oh, me, obviously,” the 6-foot-5, 233-pounder said.

The spoils?

“It was a $50 or $60 gift card to P.F. Changs,” he said.

Did he use it?

“Oh yeah, I used it,” he said.

Is the competition still on?

“As far as I know it was just that day, but we’re probably about to find out if there’s any more,” Sanders said with a laugh.

Broncos coaches and fans will be plenty happy if Sanders’ play does his talking for him. He spent the weeks between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp rehabilitating a hamstring injury he sustained during the offseason program and said he’s now trying to get past the rookie learning curve.

“It’s going pretty good,” he said. “I’m working every day, getting the playbook down a little bit and I’ve got some great veterans I can learn from, so I’m just taking it day by day.”

A welcome off day. Center Lloyd Cushenberry said the Broncos have taken a “no complaining, no nonsense” approach to training camp under Payton.

“We’re building callous throughout this camp for the regular season,” he said. “It’s tough now so it can be easier Week 8, Week 9 and throughout the regular season. This part of the year is supposed to be hard.”

Even still, a free Sunday after six straight practice days is something to thoroughly enjoy.

“Get as much sleep as you can,” Cushenberry said. “Me, personally, I’ll probably come here in the morning, cold tub, hot tub, steam room. Try to get a little sweat in and then just relax the rest of the day. Probably play PlayStation and get ready for the next day.”

A new DL. The Broncos on Saturday signed defensive lineman Forrest Merrill and waived offensive lineman Yasir Durant with an injury designation.

Merrill, who played four games for the Chargers in 2021, participated in practice Saturday. Denver just signed Durant on Monday, but he had missed the late part of the week with an injury.

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