Broncos' edge rushers must keep opponents' focus off Von Miller

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Shane Ray is expected to eventually be a big part of the Denver Broncos' pass-rush plan, but he still has a splint on his left wrist and will open the season on injured reserve.

That makes Shaquil Barrett's recovery from an offseason hip injury even more crucial. The Broncos open the season against the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night and that means they will welcome one of the most familiar faces at quarterback across from their defense in Philip Rivers.

"He is very, very, very intelligent -- you won’t confuse Philip with certain looks," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph. "If you give him the same look over and over again, he will expose you. We have to do a good job of changing our calls and keeping him guessing some. If not, he will expose you and cut you up."

Monday will mark the 24th regular-season game Rivers has played against the Broncos; the first was in 2005. The Broncos learned long ago that sacking Rivers can be difficult because he’s quick to decide where he wants to throw the ball.

Creating pressure and traffic in the middle of the formation is paramount. Without Ray in the lineup for the next seven games, the Broncos will need some of the team’s other edge players to prevent offenses from simply selling out to stop Von Miller.

Barrett, Kasim Edebali and rookie DeMarcus Walker have that on their to-do list, given that they are in the rotation with Miller at outside linebacker. Barrett missed all of training camp and did not play in any of the four preseason games because of a hip injury he suffered in a workout, but he has looked ready to go this week in practice.

"It's really important and that’s the role I’m trying to fill this year," Barrett said. "I'm just trying to get some of the pressure off of him and try to make some plays to help the defense out because if someone is over there not contributing, there’s no point for us to be out there because they could just double-team Von the whole time."

Barrett, who went from the Broncos' practice squad in 2014 to playing 16 games in each of the past two seasons, played 36.5 percent of the defensive snaps last season.

The Broncos activated Barrett from the non-football injury (NFI) list as the preseason drew to a close and he has steadily progressed to the point where Joseph said he "looked great" in Wednesday’s practice and was on track to play Monday night.

"My first week back, I had to rush around the edge and get some pressure from the tackle going around the edge with all my weight on my leg, and it withheld all that pressure in full," Barrett said. "After that, I was confident in it. I’m confident in it now. I feel 100 percent confident."

The Broncos’ success in getting to -- or at least harassing -- Rivers through the years can essentially be divided into eras before and after Miller was selected in the 2011 draft. In 11 regular-season meetings with Rivers before the 2011 season, the Broncos had three games where they sacked Rivers at least three times.

After Miller arrived, the Broncos have sacked Rivers at least three times in eight of 12 meetings.

"I'm looking forward to it," Barrett said. "It’s a big stage and we like being up on the big stage. It’s more reason to come out there and shine more because all eyes are on you."