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Ask Aric: Which unheralded players have stood out because of injuries?

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After a 20-13 win over the Dolphins, we're answering plenty of questions about both the Broncos' success on Sunday and what could be in store for the future.

We'll also evaluate which players have stood out after getting opportunities to play because of injuries.

And, as always, we've got a couple of questions about Drew Lock and his potential to be the team's long-term quarterback.

To leave a question for a future mailbag, click here.

Do you think we end up with the same record as last year and why is it that we lose to teams like Atlanta and beat teams like Miami? — Charles A.

Charles, for the Broncos to end up 7-9, they'd need to win three of their final six games. Let's look at those games: home vs. the Taysom Hill-led Saints, on the road vs. the Chiefs, on the road vs. the Panthers, home vs. the Bills, on the road vs. the Chargers, home vs. the Raiders. I think there's a decent chance the Broncos can win three of those games, and Denver obviously wants to win more than just three. If the Broncos could get to seven wins or so after the lack of an offseason program and an onslaught of injuries, I think you'd feel comfortable with the team's chances to take another step in 2021.

As for losing to the Falcons and beating the Dolphins, I think it's two-fold. First, it's about matchups. The Broncos didn't have A.J. Bouye or Bryce Callahan against a talented Falcons' wide receiving corps, and they paid the price for that. Against the Dolphins, the Broncos were at full strength in the secondary. It also has to do with a young team's ability to be consistent. In Atlanta, the Broncos struggled to maintain drives and turned the ball over at inopportune times. Against Miami, the Broncos managed to string together drives that helped win the game. I firmly believe that consistency will come with time for a young team.

When are the offensive coaches going to FINALLY start giving Phillip Lindsay MORE touches than Gordon? He is OBVIOUSLY the better option of the 2 both Physically and Mentally!!! — Eric P.

Eric isn't alone among members of Broncos Country who want to see Phillip Lindsay featured more prominently. If you take a closer look at the numbers, though, Lindsay and Melvin Gordon have been used at a similar clip. The two players have now played in six games together, and Lindsay has carried the ball 50 times compared to 72 times for Gordon. If you factor in that Lindsay was unavailable in the second half against the Titans and the Chiefs, the numbers truly aren't that skewed. In Week 11, the two players' workloads were incredibly balanced, as Gordon carried the ball 15 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns and Lindsay toted it 16 times for 82 yards. The Broncos posted 189 total rushing yards, which was the team's highest total since Week 5 of 2019. In short, this was the Broncos' running game operating at the highest level. Gordon may get more overall snaps than Lindsay, but that may have to do with Gordon's relative strength as a blocker in the passing game. I've said for a while that I believe Lindsay's at his best when he is fresh and not carrying the ball 20 times a game, so I'd be OK with a similar distribution of carries for the rest of the season.

Do you still see Drew Lock as the quarterback for the next season even though he hasn't completed a full season yet and do you think he's improving? As for Justin Simmons, after the save and game winning interception, will he get a new contract? — Jeremy P.

Jeremy, I don't want to overstate the importance of one game, but I thought it was a big deal that Lock was able to bounce back from an early interception and settle down to play a nice game. Every game is part of Lock's audition, and I think he showed against the Dolphins that he was able to rebound from tough plays. He can certainly play better and make more game-changing plays, but I'm looking for incremental improvement from the young player. As long as he shows that over the rest of the year, I'd say he's the favorite to be the team's quarterback in 2021. You can never predict how things will shake out in the draft or free agency, but I still find Lock's leadership abilities and talent intriguing. Let's not forget: He has only started 13 games in his career.

As for Simmons, John Elway has said repeatedly that he hopes to keep the talented safety in Denver for the foreseeable future. The two sides are eligible to start negotiating after the end of the regular season, and we'll see if they can reach a long-term agreement.

Do you honestly think Von Miller should come back this year? If doctors say he CAN play. Does that mean he SHOULD play?  — Ethyn D.

Every indication we've gotten from Von Miller is that it doesn't matter if the Broncos are in playoff contention, he wants to return. There's plenty of reasons why it makes sense for Miller to play, even if it's late in the year. He can add to his all-time sack total, he can prove to himself and the Broncos that he can still play at a high level and he can enjoy being out on the field with his teammates after an offseason of hard work and regular season full of rehab. I'm not a medical expert — I have no real clue if Miller will be back this year. If he's healthy enough to play, though, it makes sense to me why he'd want to pull on the No. 58 jersey again.

How come we didn't see Bausby or Ojemudia play beside special teams? - Robert K.

Robert, Bausby is currently in a reserve role as an outside cornerback, but it's a fair question about Ojemudia, who got a lot of run while A.J. Bouye was out with an injury. Quite simply, Vic Fangio believed the Broncos could trot out their best combination of cornerbacks by having Bouye and Bryce Callahan outside with Essang Bassey in the slot. It's hard to say if that will continue the rest of the season, but I think that speaks both to Callahan's positional versatility — he's been superb this year — and Bassey's ability to rise to the occasion this year as an undrafted player thrust into a major role.

Aric, after hearing Steve Atwater go over at least most of the starting lineup that has been lost due to season-ending injuries, my question is, could you discuss how many future or depth players the Broncos have possibly found due to those injuries, as well as juggling the COVID-19 guys? — Mark J.

Mark, this may be an underrated positive for Denver. Despite all the injuries, they've been able to unearth some gems on their roster. Malik Reed made a bit of an impact last year, but he's taken a huge step forward in Miller's absence. His 6.5 sacks are tied for the team lead with Bradley Chubb, and he looks like he can be a key contributor for the ensuing years. That sack total is also the highest in the league this year among undrafted players. His success feels very Shaquil Barrett-esque to me. Staying on defense, DeShawn Williams has been a strong addition to the defensive line. He's been solid against the run and posted two sacks against the Dolphins. He could be a key role player next year even once Mike Purcell returns. On offense, I'll point to Tim Patrick. Going into training camp, a lot of media members thought he would be on the roster bubble. Instead, he's been the big-bodied receiver that the Broncos miss with Courtland Sutton out for the year, and he's currently the team's second-leading receiver.

I … think RT is a yearly question mark for this team. The inability to fix that position has made it difficult to find a QB and to solidify the o line in general. Are you confident that we can count on [Ja'Wuan] James or should we draft a tackle in the first round in 21? - James N.

Ja'Wuan James remains under contract in 2021, so it seems reasonable to expect him to potentially start again next year, but it's never a bad thing to have talented, young tackles. The Broncos — like any NFL team — will have several holes to fill in next year's draft. I think the decision to draft a tackle will hinge on whether Garett Bolles returns to Denver for a fifth season. As far as James' play in particular, it's hard to evaluate because he simply hasn't played much at all for the Broncos. That will definitely be a story line to watch next year.

Aric … how did John Elway fare his first season as a starter? If I remember correctly John Elway first season was something to remember I thinks he had many up and downs just like Drew is having in his first full season. I thinks this is a very good learning curve for Drew and all the rookies on offense we have - Kim R.

Kim, Elway went 4-6 as a rookie while completing 47.5 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Peyton Manning went 3-13 as a rookie as he completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 26 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. I don't mean to suggest that Lock will turn out like Elway or Manning, but I do think it's too early to make a long-term determination of Lock based on 13 starts. At the end of this year, we'll likely have a much better idea of which way Lock is trending. Until then, we'll just have to be patient.

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