EAGAN, Minn. — A week ago, the Broncos' offense faced a difficult end-of-game scenario.
The group trailed by a touchdown with just over two minutes to play. Armed with two timeouts, the unit needed to march 75 yards for a score.
On that day, both Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock came up just short. Both players were picked off late in the drive, and the offense fell short of its goal.
"That's a doable situation," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "We have to go do it."
On Wednesday, during the Broncos' first joint practice against the Minnesota Vikings, the unit took a step toward mastering the scenario.
Working with the first-team offense against the Vikings' starting defense in a move-the-ball scenario, Bridgewater guided the Broncos on a quick three-play scoring drive that appeared to span 80 yards. Bridgewater started the drive with a quick strike to Courtland Sutton and then hit Noah Fant on an intermediate route.
Then, he and the Broncos made their move.
Bridgewater found Jerry Jeudy on a slant about 20 yards downfield, and the impressive second-year receiver did the rest. Vikings cornerback Bashaud Breeland tried to undercut the route, but the ball got to Jeudy, and he took off down the middle of the field for about a 50-yard touchdown. Jeudy then somersaulted into the end zone for good measure.
"He just did a good job of understanding the coverage," Bridgewater said. "We ran a play where I just had to read the safety, what the safety did. I was able to hold the safety a little bit with my eyes and Jerry did the rest. You throw it in a tight window, Jerry makes the catch and he goes down and five seconds later, he's rolling in the end zone like it's a fire drill, like he's on fire. … He's having fun. That's just some of the glimpses and some of the flashes that you see in this offense."
In the blink of an eye, the Broncos had — presumably — won the game.
The next group started its own drive well, as Drew Lock found Austin Fort for an opening completion. The ensuing throw, though, was into traffic and was knocked into the air. Minnesota's Xavier Woods snagged the ball and ended the second unit's chance.
"There's a lot to take from it today," Lock said. "I'm anxiously ready to get back, watch this film. There's a lot of things that I could've done better today — some good things that I did today, some good things that we all did today, some bad things we all did. I think that's the benefit of coming to these things. Not as much time as you would normally put in a game week, going into a Sunday, coming in here and practicing against them. So there's some wild looks that we saw and will be able to go back and learn from. But it was good, it was good — that's what you come here for."
The Broncos' first-team defense handled its own end-of-game scenario quite well. The unit didn't record a takeaway, but the Broncos forced Kirk Cousins to throw several incompletions and forced the Vikings' offense off the field.
Of course, the move-the-ball scenario was just one of more than a dozen periods in practice. Bridgewater also tossed a touchdown pass during a red-zone seven-on-seven period on a seam route to KJ Hamler, and he threw just two incompletions during team-period drills.
Lock wasn't quite as accurate, but he started the day with a long throw down the right sideline to Courtland Sutton, who hauled it in over a couple of defenders and got both feet in bounds. Lock also had a 15-yard completion to Jeudy and a red-zone touchdown pass to Noah Fant (though he may have been sacked under game conditions).
Both quarterbacks will have another practice to work through different scenarios, and then they'll turn ahead to the preseason game on Saturday.
Lock will start the contest, and his goals for his snaps are simple.
"Just take care of the football, progress down the field, score some touchdowns, but the main thing for me is going to be taking care of the football," Lock said. "Showing that I can make the right decision with the ball, keep the offense on the field. We've got enough guys on our team, on our offense — enough talent — that as long as we're staying on the field, good things are going to happen."
Bridgewater, meanwhile, will also look to make the best of his snaps with the second unit.
"The biggest part for me on Saturday is getting my unit to the end zone no matter who's out there with me," Bridgewater said. "[I'm] trying to encourage the other 10 guys in the huddle with me to be the best player that they can be each play. [I'm going to] take it one play at a time and not look too far ahead and not think about what happened in the past. [If] we can just focus on that one play and find purpose in every single rep, then we're accomplishing our goal."
JEUDY IMPRESSIVE VS. VIKINGS DEFENSE
It's not just Broncos' cornerbacks who struggle to contain Jeudy, the 2020 first-round pick.
The Broncos started their work against the Vikings with one-on-one drills, and Jeudy made an immediate impression. During his first rep, he used a double move to get free from Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander. The defender grabbed hold of Jeudy to stop him from flying past, and Jeudy drew a defensive holding call. The Broncos would have declined the penalty, though, as Jeudy still gained several steps on Alexander and made the catch.
It was just the start of Jeudy's strong day that again demonstrated his play-making ability.
"He's a very tough cover," Lock said. "It's almost like he has a plan before we snap the ball and how it feels like when we set this guy up — whoever it is. He does a pretty good job of getting open, I'll say that."
Bridgewater, who connected with Jeudy several times, also praised the wide receiver's athleticism.
"Jerry Jeudy, man, he scares me," Bridgewater said. "The way he's in and out of breaks, he can't have any ACLs or knees. I wish I had his knees. That guy, the way he's able to change direction, he makes all of his routes look the same. He's doing a great job of attacking the ball when we throw it to him across the middle. He's making plays after the catch. He's having fun — and that's what you love to see."
- The Broncos' other Alabama first-rounder, Pat Surtain II, also made a big play during one-on-one drills. During a rep against rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Surtain stayed step for step with the receiver, wasn't fooled when Smith-Marsette attempted a stop-and-go route and had perfect position to knock the ball away in the end zone. The play showed Surtain's lockdown ability and why the Broncos were keen to select the cornerback with the ninth-overall pick.
- Rookie running back Javonte Williams won a pass-blocking rep during a one-on-one period against rookie linebacker Chazz Surratt. The two men were teammates at Carolina a year ago and now find themselves competing in joint practices.
- Running backs Melvin Gordon III and Mike Boone had a couple of nice runs each, as they used their speed to burst through the hole. One of Boone's carries likely would have gone for 20-plus yards in game conditions.
- Hamler had a nice afternoon, as he caught several passes, including the aforementioned touchdown. His best catch came during a team period, as he laid out on a crossing route toward the sideline to haul in a pass.
- Rookie center Quinn Meinerz had a couple of issues with poor snaps on Wednesday.
"We've got to get that fixed," Fangio said. "… You never know who's totally at fault. Sometimes everybody wants to blame the center. Sometimes it's the quarterback. He's got to get it up, and the quarterback's got to hang in there longer until they can make it automatic. It's not automatic with him right now, so they can't treat it like they're with 'Cush' [Lloyd Cushenberry III], who's done it all his life at LSU and now here. We've got to get it fixed, and it's both guys."
- Denver's offensive line seemed to give up a decent amount of pressure, particularly during a period when the Vikings sent several blitzes. Minnesota's Stephen Weatherly likely would have had a strip-sack during one team-period play, and both Lock and Bridgewater dealt with pressure that could have resulted in several sacks. Calvin Anderson took the first-team reps at right tackle on Wednesday, and he had mixed results against Weatherly. The Broncos' offense also had several false starts.
- During one play, Sutton went across the middle and leaped for an overthrown pass. He was knocked hard to the ground, but jumped right back up. Sutton previously said the physical element was the last part of his recovery, so it was encouraging to see him hop up from the hit.
- Tight ends Eric Saubert and Andrew Beck were both active with several catches apiece.
- Gordon made a nice one-handed reaching grab during a seven-on-seven red-zone period.
- Defensive lineman Shelby Harris, who celebrated his 30thbirthday on Wednesday, batted down a Kirk Cousins pass at the line of scrimmage.