As the 2021 offseason winds down and training camp approaches, we're turning our attention toward the season. Over the following few weeks, we'll take a look at each of the position groups on the Broncos' roster before finishing our training camp preview series with a look at some of the top questions facing the team. In our look at each position, we'll fill you in on what we know about the group and what we hope to find out during training camp. We'll also identify a player to keep an eye on when practices and the preseason get underway shortly.
We begin the series with a look at the position group that has dominated offseason headlines: quarterback.
What we know:
Since George Paton accepted the team's general manager position in January, he has been resolute in his two messages about the quarterback position: that he had confidence in Drew Lock and that he wanted to add competition. The team did the latter in late April, as the Broncos traded a late-round pick for former Pro Bowler Teddy Bridgewater. The Broncos then perhaps showed their belief in Lock — and Bridgewater — when they chose to select Pat Surtain II with the ninth-overall pick instead of Justin Fields or Mac Jones. Following the draft, Paton said he planned for the two players to move forward and compete for the starting job.
"With Teddy and Drew, they'll have a competition, and that's what we've wanted all along," Paton said in early May. "We'll let them compete. I like the room. Does it mean we won't continue to look? No, but I say that about every position. I look forward to getting Teddy here, and he and Drew having a great competition."
That competition began over the final four weeks of the offseason program, and each quarterback had their share of shining moments. Lock enjoyed a three-touchdown day during one minicamp practice, while Bridgewater developed strong chemistry with wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. The offseason, though, won't have much bearing on the ultimate winner of the competition.
"To me, OTAs, especially when you have a new quarterback such as Teddy coming in, who really didn't start working with us until OTAs, a big part of this is just getting him comfortable with the offense, introducing it to him," Head Coach Vic Fangio said at the end of mandatory minicamp. "Obviously coaches and everybody else likes to evaluate every day, but to me the big evaluation will come more in camp.
"… If you're going to put a percentage on … the evaluation and comparing [OTAs with training camp and the preseason], [it's] two to three percent these last few weeks. The rest of the 97, 98 percent of it is yet to come."
Both players will enter the summer with something to prove.
Lock will aim to show that a second consecutive season in an offense can help him improve upon an up-and-down 2020 campaign. Bridgewater, meanwhile, will attempt to prove that he can still play at the Pro Bowl level that he demonstrated in 2015.
What we need to learn:
There's been no shortage of analysts this offseason who have raved about the strength of the Broncos' roster. The team reloaded on defense — particularly the secondary — and has plenty of young talent at its offensive skill positions. The Broncos' ability to take advantage of that talent, though, will rest on Lock's or Bridgewater's shoulders.
As training camp begins, we'll be watching to see which player gives the Broncos the best chance to win. That may not be the same player who completes the most passes or makes the most highlight plays. It may well be about who commands the offense and can lead the unit to consistent success.
"There's the hard data," Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur said of the evaluation. "You want to get more completions and you want less interceptions. You want to throw touchdown passes. All the hard data. When we look at it, I'm kind of looking at it generally to when this guy is in there, are less bad things happening? When he makes a mistake, is it catastrophic, or is it something we can correct? It's all the things you look at and it's why it's important that you practice. … It's a coordinated effort and it really goes through the eyes of the quarterback, and a lot of times, how he executes can help the rest of team play better. There's obviously the objective [stuff] — and then the subjective stuff that we look at."
The two quarterbacks may have different goals as they compete for the same position. Bridgewater will try to show mastery of a new offense and the ability to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers. Lock, after throwing 15 interceptions last season, must avoid turnovers and stack good practices and preseason performances.
Perhaps the biggest question about this competition is when it will end. Fangio did not provide a timeline for making a decision, but he emphasized that both players will get an equal shot at the job. It will be intriguing to watch how long the battle plays out. An early set of joint practices against the Vikings and games in Minnesota and Seattle should go a long way toward determining the winner.
Player to watch:
Bridgewater is a talented quarterback who will stake his claim to the starting job, but in my eyes, this summer will be about Drew Lock.
The third-year player has tantalizing ability — and when he's been able to put it to good use, it's led the Broncos to success. Lock's struggles have come as he's tried to play at that high level consistently. In training camp, he'll aim to show that an offseason of hard work amid a slew of quarterback rumors will not be put to waste. He's entering the second season in Shurmur's system, has familiarity with the team's receivers and tight ends and he ended last season on a high note.
After a tough game against the Raiders in which he threw four interceptions, Lock rebounded with nine touchdowns and four interceptions over his final five games. He didn't have an interception in three of those contests, including a season-ending two-touchdown, 339-yard performance against the Raiders. Unlike in 2019, he didn't have the wins to go along with his play, but he probably performed at a higher level than he did during the 4-1 stretch in 2019.
Lock still has the talent to be a longtime starting quarterback in this league, and it wasn't long ago that he was talked about as one of the top prospects. Every practice and every preseason game will be must-see viewing for Broncos fans.