DENVER (AP) — Ever since the NFL released its schedule on May 7, Jurrell Casey has been counting down the days to the Denver Broncos’ season opener against Tennessee.
The Titans traded Casey to Denver this offseason in a salary dump, clearing $11 million in cap space by sending the five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman to Denver for a seventh-round draft choice.
“It’s going to be a little bit more juice,” Casey said as his Denver debut approached.
The Broncos host the Titans on Monday night at an empty Empower Field at Mile High.
Casey was a little bit more animated this spring when he called out the Titans, saying the way they traded him after nine seasons in Nashville was equivalent to throwing him away “like a piece of trash.”
“The part that is so crazy is that you give so much to them. Especially when you come up on free agency and have opportunities to go somewhere else, especially the way it was going when we were there, 2-14, 3-13,” Casey said on the Double Coverage podcast hosted by the New England Patriots’ Devin and Jason McCourty.
“Those were some rough times. When you’re a loyal guy and you feel like things are going in the right direction and you’re that centerpiece, you got no choice but to fight it through. My mindset was to stick it out and things would get better.”
The Titans reached the AFC championship game last season thanks to a second-half surge that followed a shutout loss in Denver in which coach Mike Vrabel benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill.
The Titans went 9-4 the rest of the way and jumped out to an early double-digit lead at Kansas City before succumbing 35-24 to the soon-to-be Super Bowl champs.
Two months later, Casey’s agent called to tell him the Titans were shopping him around, news he said he’d rather have gotten directly from the team.
“It was a blow to the heart because I would have thought that one of them would have hit me up,” Casey said on the podcast.
For six months, Titans fans wondered if the Casey trade was a big blunder but general manager Jon Robinson added an impact player this month in Jadeveon Clowney, who got Casey’s old No. 99 jersey number.
“I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for Jurrell in the time that I spent here with him and the impact he’s made on our organization,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “This isn’t the first or the last time a player has faced his (former) team the next year. We’re familiar with that and he’s familiar with us and our personnel. He’ll certainly be someone that we’ll have to block and be aware of.”
Broncos coach Vic Fangio is sure glad he has Casey on his side this time to help corral Derrick Henry and the rest of Tennessee’s precise offense.
“He’s been a productive player throughout his career,” Fangio said. “He makes plays, he plays with good savvy, he’s a smart player. He’s been a good anchor in there versus the run, he flashes his athletic movement …
“He’s had a great career, so we were happy to get him and we think he’s still got some more left in him, too.”
Other subplots when the Broncos appear on “Monday Night Football” for an NFL-best 29th consecutive season:
The notion that Denver’s defense would carry the offense took a hit when star linebacker Von Miller suffered a serious ankle injury. Now, Pat Shurmur will be tempted to open things up for Drew Lock’s baby-faced offense.
“No matter what the defense does it’s our job to score points,” said receiver Courtland Sutton, who hurt his right shoulder at Thursday’s practice.
Now that the Titans have Clowney and Vic Beasley Jr. to bolster their pass rush, the big question is how much will either of them play? Clowney didn’t sign his contract until Sept. 7, but spent the offseason training on his own.
Beasley didn’t pass his physical until Sept. 5 after spending training camp on the non-football injury list. Playing in the altitude of Denver also could limit the number of reps either get.
Derrick Henry was the NFL’s rushing leader last season with 1,540 yards, but he has struggled in two games against Denver. Henry ran 12 times for 42 yards backing up DeMarco Murray as a rookie in a Titans’ win on Dec. 11, 2016, and he was held to 28 yards on 15 rushes in a 16-0 loss in Denver last October. That easily was Henry’s worst game last season.
Sutton said the Broncos, who joined a peaceful protest in the summer following the death of George Floyd, determined that each individual player would decide what they wanted to do during the national anthem Monday night. Sutton said the only request from management was that every player be present on the sideline for the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Sutton said he’ll take a knee to continue bringing attention to social injustice and racism.
With contributions from AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker.
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