As the Denver Broncos approach their Week 1 season opener against the Tennessee Titans, they’ll focus on implementing their actual gameplan, which means Denver’s initial 53-man roster is in place along with the Broncos practice squad for the 2020 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what makes the practice squad different this year and which players from the practice squad could make an impact on the team both in 2020 and beyond.

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What’s different about the Broncos practice squad for 2020?

The National Football League’s practice squad system has undergone a more drastic renovation in 2020 than it has seen since its inception in 1965.

As opposed to the typical practice squad size of 10 players, this year’s practice unit can have up to 16 players, which is the most dramatic increase in the number of players allowed since the system was overhauled in 1993. The NFL chose to expand the practice roster this season because of the necessity that teams will face of having capable replacements already in the building, which will be important this season.

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Another major change makes it much easier to call up replacement players from the practice squad in the event of an outbreak or a rash of injuries. Teams can now activate a practice squad player for a game up until the moment they announce their inactive players, and they also don’t have to elevate that player to their roster anymore in order to play them. Having this in place should help in the event a player on the active roster tests positive before a game.

The final change, and arguably the most important one, is that teams can now designate up to four players on their practice squad as “protected,” which means they can’t be poached by other teams, unlike the remaining 12 players on the practice squad. For the Broncos, those four players will likely be Brett Rypien, LeVante Bellamy, De’Vante Bausby, and Derrek Tuszka.

Which players could wind up on the final roster later this season?

With the injury bug plaguing various NFL teams, it’s likely that several of the players currently on the practice squad will get a chance to shine later on this season.

One of the players most likely to do end up on the active roster during the season is Bausby. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given performance during training camp. The Broncos’ decision to cut him on Saturday was a move that nobody saw coming, considering many media members had him penciled in as a starter, so it would make sense for him to get a show on the active roster later on in the season.

It will also be true if some of the cornerbacks that made the final roster over him, like Davontae Harris, Duke Dawson or Essang Bassey, struggle early on in the season, or if injuries begin to impact the position. Behind projected starters A.J. Bouye and third-round rookie selection Michael Ojemudia, the only backup boundary cornerback is Harris, which makes Denver’s depth dangerously shallow.

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Kevin Tolliver, a late practice squad acquisition, was the last roster addition signed to the practice squad and has prior experience with Broncos head coach Vic Fangio during his time in Chicago. He’ll provide even more depth to what is a fairly shallow secondary on the active roster.

The two other practice squad players for the Broncos in 2020 that could see time on the active roster this season also play positions where the team could quickly become too shallow if they incur any injuries. Those two players being safeties P.J. Locke and Alijah Holder.

Behind Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, the only safety on the active roster is Trey Marshall. He played well against the run last season but struggled in pass coverage, allowing a perfect passer rating and completion percentage when targeted. If Simmons had to miss some time, the Broncos would have to elevate either Locke or Holder off of the practice squad. There was a chance that Holder could have made the team’s final roster if he didn’t suffer an injury towards the end of camp that forced him to miss reps in practice.

Both players could end up on the active roster in the future if the team has a need for safety help.

Which players could be on the active roster next season with more development this season?

Considering his poor camp performance and the amount of money he has on his contract next year, it looks as if Jeff Driskel won’t be on the Broncos’ roster after 2020, which could clear the way for Rypien to take over as the backup quarterback of the future. Rypien’s camp performance wasn’t all that impressive either, but it was arguably better than Driskel’s and he should only continue to progress over the next season.

At running back, Bellamy should also continue to progress, which is an exciting notion considering how good he looked at training camp this off-season. He almost immediately pushed Khalfani Muhammad off the roster and even pressured Royce Freeman down the stretch. Freeman won the battle in the end, pushing Bellamy off of the roster and onto the practice squad, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the story is different next season.

On defense, Tuszka should expect to make the final roster next season. Coming into the NFL, he possessed more talent than the average seventh-round pick when Denver selected him. However, he couldn’t sneak onto the roster with the players like Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Jeremiah Attaochu, and Malik Reed ahead of him. With that said, as Attaochu’s contract expires after the season, Tuszka should be the heavy favorite to replace him in 2021, if he gets stronger like Fangio hopes he does.

Josh Watson is another name on the Broncos practice squad for 2020 that some should keep an eye on. Watson is heavily favored by the Broncos coaching staff and they believe he’ll develop even further. Austin Calitro, Mark Barron, Joe Jones, and Alexander Johnson all have expiring contracts, which should clear the way for Watson to make the final roster in 2021, assuming he continues his development.