DENVER — Sixteen days before the Broncos were scheduled to return to Empower Field at Mile High for their season opener, they held a scrimmage Saturday at their home stadium that was designed to closely resemble a game-day experience.
The team went through its regular pregame warmups that include stretching, individual drills and walkthrough-style plays.
Then, the team ran out of the tunnel, trotted out into a kickoff formation and began an hour-long scrimmage that included a brief halftime period.
On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Drew Lock dropped back and launched a pass down the right sideline to wide receiver Courtland Sutton. With A.J. Bouye in coverage, Lock would've needed to deliver a perfect throw, and the pass was too far ahead of Sutton for the pair to connect. Unfortunately for the team's offense, it was largely a sign of things to come on Saturday.
In eight series of work against the first-team defense, Lock threw a pair of interceptions and was at times out of sync with his receivers. After practice, he vowed to use the practice as motivation and a learning lesson.
"I've always been the guy who's able to learn more from mistakes rather than being all daisies, all roses out there," Lock said. "It will be good for us to be able to go back and look at how we struggled, look at what we did wrong, especially like you said for those young guys. It's better to struggle early I feel like. I got told this when I was in college. I'd rather — someone was telling me this, they'd rather me struggle early and be great later on. I'd rather us struggle right now, obviously, [and] then be great when the season comes along."
On the first-team offense's first series, the unit picked up one first down but then was forced to punt after incompletions to Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. On their second attempt, Lock found Sutton for a big gain coming across the field, but on an ensuing play, a miscommunication with the 2019 Pro Bowler led to an easy interception for Davontae Harris.
Lock said artificial crowd noise was not to blame for the mistake.
"No, the pick that we threw early, it was a pump," Lock said. "It was [a] called pump in the huddle. Mr. Lock didn't throw the pump. He threw the normal curl. He didn't throw the pump. That will result in a pick most of the time if you do that. That one's on me. Other than that, I feel like we were on the same page. That was the one time where it was just bad. It wasn't good football. It wasn't a good play by me. Other than that, I think those guys did a good job today. It got a little wet, got a little rainy. I thought they did a great job today. I just have to do better."
Over the ensuing series, the offense had its share of bright spots. Lock completed a pass in traffic to Sutton in the red zone. He found Jerry Jeudy down the field, and the rookie made a bobbling catch. He floated a touch pass to Royce Freeman that Josey Jewell had no chance to break up, despite applying perfect coverage.
Most of those positive plays, though, were followed by a dropped pass, a batted ball at the line of scrimmage or an overthrow. Justin Simmons added an interception near the end of the first half, and Von Miller would've had at least a couple of sacks in game action.
Lock said after the session that he was upset by his performance, but that he'd use it to come back stronger during Monday's practice.
"I feel like if you do find a quarterback that's not upset and hurt to the core after a practice where you kind of get your butt kicked, then you've got the wrong guy leading your team," Lock said. "Of course, right now I'm upset. I would have rather played a lot better, but it's a learning moment for me. That's where you have to go after the fact, after you get out [of] the 'Wow, that was bad' [mindset]. … You can do that for probably a half hour after the game. Obviously, the emotions are running high. I'm going to do that probably for the next 10 more minutes. Then I'm going to let it go. I'm going to figure out what I did wrong, watch my feet. I'm going to watch the plays. I'm going to watch what the defense did, see if they brought something different today. I'm going to just really try and correct myself over the next days until we get out there Monday."
Head Coach Vic Fangio said he believed that while Lock's performance wasn't perfect on Saturday, he's done an admirable job during training camp of avoiding making the same mistake on multiple occasions.
"I do think so, and I think today will be a very good learning experience for him and for the entire offense," Fangio said. "You know, there were some interceptions out there. There's a story behind every interception, whether it be a poor read on his part, poor throw on his part, poor route on someone else's part or a route not being run exactly the way he's anticipating it. We'll get to the bottom of those and get to the story behind each and every one. I do think it's something he can correct, but I thought today was a very valuable day for him."
ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE
While Lock and Co. will want to move past Saturday's session, the defense should pride itself on a day that featured a slew of pass breakups and four interceptions. In addition to picks by Harris and Simmons, P.J. Locke and Trey Marshall also added interceptions.
"A lot of times in team meetings I have to say it all depends what lens you're looking through," Fangio said of evaluating practice. "If you're an offensive player or an offensive coach, you didn't like it. If you're a defensive player or a defensive coach, you liked it. Where it is for us as a team, I'm not sure, but obviously, we can't have that many turnovers on offense. It'd be great to get that many on defense each and every week. You have to pick what side you're on there."
Harris, who remains in the competition for the No. 3 cornerback spot, has impressed Fangio in recent days.
"He's done well here as of late," Fangio said. "I made that comment a couple days ago to the coaches in a meeting. I'm starting to see him do some things better, little things better. I told him that personally. Obviously, he made some plays here today. We'll see how the total film looked when we get back, but it's been happening. Today wasn't a one-time thing."
NO TEAM WORK
Although Melvin Gordon III has returned to practice after suffering a rib injury last week, he has yet to carry the ball in team drills. The Broncos leaned on Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman during Saturday's scrimmage in his absence, but Fangio said the team believes Gordon will be available soon.
"It's a product of his rib injury," Fangio said. "Yeah, there's a concern any time someone misses [reps], particularly a new guy. We think he will be back sooner rather than later. We're hoping for that. We need him."
- Rookie Lloyd Cushenberry III continued to get plenty of reps with the first-team offensive line and largely held up well in the center of the line.
- Early in practice, Albert Okwuegbunam had a pass bounce off his chest and get picked off by Locke. He rebounded from that and a dropped pass to score a couple of touchdowns later in practice.
- A.J. Bouye recorded a stellar pass breakup against Tyrie Cleveland on a pass right at the goal line.
- Bryce Callahan played tight coverage during Saturday's practice and blanketed both Sutton and Jeudy on several occasions.
- Shelby Harris, who batted a pass down to secure a win the last time the Broncos were at Empower Field at Mile High, swatted another one down at the line on Saturday.
- Brandon McManus ended one drive by knocking home a 60-yard field goal.
- Vic Fangio pulled the red challenge flag from his pocket for the first time this season as he challenged a pass competition to Okweugbunam. After seeing the replay, it's likely that Fangio would've won the challenge and the call would have been overturned.
- The Broncos did extensive special teams work on Saturday, including kickoffs, punts and field goals.