ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —We're another week closer to training camp, which means we'll soon be able to turn our attention from predictions and projections to evaluations of practices and games.
In this week's mailbag, we're looking at how the Broncos' offense will develop in those practices and reportedly limited preseason games, how the unit will use all of its talented pieces and if more help could be headed to the secondary.
As always, to submit a question for a future mailbag, click here.
Aric, with the league slated to play only two preseason games (as of right now) how much playing time do you expect for our starters? Specifically Drew Lock and his receivers, considering it's an entirely new system and coordinator. - Alex C.
Alex, with the reported reduction in the preseason slate, I think you're right to wonder how the Broncos will handle having two fewer games ahead of the regular season. Even if the preseason slate had stayed at four games, I think there was a chance that the Broncos would've given Lock and Co. more action than normal because of the loss of OTA reps. In a normal year, the starters tend to play a series in the first game, a quarter in the second game, a half in the third game and not at all in the preseason finale. Head Coach Vic Fangio modified that a bit in 2019 because of the Hall of Fame game, but generally that's how teams handle the preseason. If the Broncos do end up playing two preseason games — and the NFLPA has reportedly suggested that all preseason games be cancelled — it will be interesting to see how teams handle the workload. Will they play their starters an entire half in the first preseason game to get live reps and then sit them in the second game? Will they play them a series in one and a quarter in the other? Will they see a quarter of action in each game? It's tough to guess, in part because this is an unprecedented circumstance. One thing to note for the Broncos that could help us make an educated guess: Fangio has repeatedly promoted the value of preseason reps. For that reason, I'd expect to see Lock, Von Miller, and the rest of the Broncos' starters for a reasonable amount of time in at least one of the two preseason games. Now, that doesn't mean they'll run anything other than a vanilla playbook. The Titans don't know what the Broncos are going to do offensively as the team implements Pat Shurmur's system. The Broncos would be wise to maximize that advantage for Week 1.
How much will a shortened preseason affect the team and the development of the young offense? - Andrew L.
This question also deals with the preseason, but the nuance of it is a bit different. Let's start with the offense. Most of the Broncos' work in perfecting the offense will be done in training camp, because of the sheer number of plays they'll be able to run compared to in preseason games. The starting offense may get 50-60 plays in a training camp practice, and that unit could get just 10-20 in a preseason game. Now, because joint practices aren't permitted this year, the preseason games could be helpful in determining how the offense works against a different style of defense or for seeing how things flow at full speed. Largely, though, the Broncos will make strides on the practice field at UCHealth Training Center. And as long as the team is able to get in enough reps before Week 1, I don't think that will play a major role in the offense's development. Where it will make an impact, though, is with the young and undrafted players. In a normal season, players like Essang Bassey and LeVante Bellamy would get plenty of reps in the preseason to prove they deserve a spot on the roster. That's how players like Chris Harris Jr. and Phillip Lindsay stuck around and begun Pro Bowl careers. With the loss of two preseason games — and possibly more — it could prove difficult to find this unmined talent.
The offense does seem to have a great number of interesting pieces. That does suggest more points. I do wonder if it is possible to give all the pieces enough touches to reach their potentials this season. (However, not sure that is a bad thing). What are your thoughts? - William L.
William, I think this is a fair point, because it's quite possible the Broncos' offense is drastically better even as numbers for certain players — Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay, perhaps — aren't quite as high as in previous seasons. With all of the options, it will be on Shurmur to find a way to involve all of the team's dynamic options. More than in previous seasons, I think you'll see a shift week-to-week in who leads the Broncos in receptions or touches. If the Broncos have the advantage against a team's linebacking or safety corps, Noah Fant might go off for seven catches and 100-plus yards. If Denver likes the matchup between KJ Hamler and the opposition's slot corner, Hamler could have a big day. If an opponent struggles against running backs out of the backfield, maybe Melvin Gordon III ends up with more catches than carries. Over the course of the season, I think you'll see these numbers average out to the point where Sutton still leads the team in yards and receptions. If there's a game, though, where Sutton catches three passes instead of seven, that could just mean that the Broncos have other matchups they'd like to exploit.
Do you see the Broncos adding more depth to the secondary? - Lateef D.
Lateef, I've mentioned a few times that I think the Broncos would be well-served to add another cornerback to the roster. A.J. Bouye seems like a solid option at the No. 1 cornerback position, but Bryce Callahan still has to prove he can both play outside in base coverages and stay healthy. Behind Bouye and Callahan, the Broncos will be counting on one or two of a handful of young players to emerge as a viable option. If the Broncos were to add a veteran cornerback, I think it would provide a bit of a safety net — especially early in the season as some of the young players try to adapt to a bigger role. Several veteran players remain on the market — including Trumaine Johnson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Logan Ryan and Darqueze Dennard — but at this point I wouldn't expect the Broncos to sign anyone until training camp begins and potentially after they see how Bouye, Callahan and the young reserves look on the field together. Denver could also add a player off waivers ahead of the regular season.
Aric, I have been a Bronco fan since the mid-1970s. I have learned recently about Floyd Little's battle with cancer. I have seen a Go Fund Me page to help in paying for his treatment. Is this page legit? If it is I would like to contribute. Can you at DenverBroncos.com provide a vetted link or can you inform me what it is? This is a Bronco legend that needs help. - Brian H.
Brian, thanks for reaching out about Floyd. Yes, the GoFundMe page that you've seen circulating was set up by a former Syracuse teammate of Little's, and he is working closely with Little's wife and son to pass the funds along to help Little in his fight. If you'd like to donate, you can click here to visit the link.