ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A more normal Denver Broncos offseason program rolled to its end this week and the team will adjourn until training camp opens in late July.
During a spring when vaccinations among the players and coaches were almost — almost — as hot a topic as the quarterback competition or Aaron Rodgers‘ football future, we’re left with plenty of questions to ponder.
Some of those questions are heading toward answers and some are nowhere close to a resolution. Here’s a breakdown of the biggest minicamp takeaways.
Of course, quarterbacks. This is Denver. Peyton Manning has been retired five years and will soon be wearing a gold Hall of Fame jacket. The Broncos are still searching for his replacement.
Long-term replacement, you ask? The Broncos would settle for a quality season front to back, free from injury or drama, from somebody.
In organized team activities and minicamp, coach Vic Fangio kept to his declaration he would split the snaps between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater as close to 50-50 as possible, and both quarterbacks had their moments in the 11-on-11 work.
But no matter who has looked good or not over the past few weeks, virtually all of the grades are still to be earned.
“To me OTAs, especially when you have a new quarterback such as Teddy coming in … a big part of this is getting him comfortable with the offense, introducing it to him,” Fangio said. “… Obviously the coaches and everybody else like to evaluate every day, but to me the big evaluation comes more in camp … to me, if you’re going to put [a] percentage on it, the evaluation of it, comparing the two, is 2 to 3% these last few weeks, the rest of the 97, 98% is still to come.”
Each of the quarterbacks will have to make the most of the next five weeks. For his part, Lock seems to have made an important transition many young quarterbacks in the league face. He’s discovered just how much time successful quarterbacks must spend on football in the offseason, before training camp.
The QB battle will essentially boil down to this:
For Lock: Can he toe the line between making the tough play and the smart play? Too many of his mistakes are where defensive coordinators want him to make them so he has to consistently show he can find the match-up the defense is trying to keep him from finding.
For Bridgewater: Can he make game-changing plays available to him without losing his veteran reliability? Defensive coordinators around the league say they believe they can force him into the short-of-the-sticks throws because he won’t stress the defense deep when he’s presented with certain coverage looks.
Check out the best highlights from Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II’s college career.
The team’s first two selections in the 2021 NFL draft made it clear they are ready for plenty of playing time.
The Broncos piled as much as they could on cornerback Pat Surtain II‘s football plate and he handled it like he’s been in the building far longer than April. The Broncos showed plenty of defensive personnel groupings that included their two major free agent acquisitions, Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller, on the field at the same time with Bryce Callahan and Surtain.
If Surtain can keep up this pace, the Broncos could look at ways to get their dime package — six defensive backs — on the field more.
The team’s second pick, running back Javonte Williams, made the most of Melvin Gordon III‘s decision to stay away from everything except the mandatory minicamp. Everybody knew Williams was a decisive runner who can finish plays, but he showed versatility and football maturity in passing-down situations as well in the early non-contact work.
With the addition of Mike Boone in free agency, Gordon is going to need a quality camp/preseason just to keep anything close to the 215 carries he had last season.
Courtland Sutton and others returning from injury
The Broncos — and Sutton — have expressed all forms of optimism for Sutton’s return from his ACL tear in Week 2 last season. Sutton, who had limited work throughout the OTAs as well as minicamp, showed how hard he has attacked his rehab. He is expected to participate in training camp right from the start, even as the Broncos manage his snap count on the way to the regular season.
Linebacker Bradley Chubb (ankle) will be ready for camp, but Fangio has said Chubb’s conditioning in particular will be monitored as the Broncos work through the early portion of camp into the preseason. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (knee) is also expected to participate, but will be watched closely when camp opens.
Fangio said in recent weeks he respects any decisions players would make, but that his hope was as many as possible would be vaccinated. Non-vaccinated players will face restrictions that vaccinated players will not have to deal with.
The Broncos’ entire coaching staff has been vaccinated for COVID-19, Fangio said. Fangio’s hope was that bv the time minicamp closed on Thursday, as many as 70 of the team’s 90 players would be vaccinated.
“The staff has all been vaccinated,” Fangio said. “The players — we’re going to be somewhere by the end of this week in the high 60s to low 70s probably. Maybe a little bit more. We’ve got about 61 guys that have started the process or are vaccinated. We’ve got a bunch of guys that have said they’re going to. It’s like college recruiting. There’s a lot of verbal commitments that don’t follow through. We’ll see whether our verbal vaccinations follow through.”