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'He needs to do what Drew Lock did last year': Vic Fangio explains how KJ Hamler can use time away from practice field

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos' 2020 second-round pick works his way back from a hamstring injury, he could be well-served to take guidance from the way one of Denver's 2019 second-round picks worked his way back from his own injury.

In 2019, quarterback Drew Lock suffered a thumb injury in the Broncos' third preseason game, and he ended up on injured reserve as the Broncos' began the regular season. Instead of viewing the eight-week layoff as a redshirt year, Lock dove into virtual reality training and found a greater understanding of the team's offense. When he returned to practice later in the year, Head Coach Vic Fangio spoke highly of the way the then-rookie used his time away from the practice field.

"I think the biggest jump he made, and I think I've said this before, he really used that 10 weeks he was off to his advantage," Fangio said late last season. "I think he learned more about the NFL, learned more about playing quarterback in the NFL and all the things that go with playing quarterback in the NFL, whereas I think in training camp he was a little bit inundated with everything. I think those 10 weeks were really beneficial to him."

Lock, of course, returned from his injury to lead the team to a 4-1 record as he completed 64.1 percent of his passes and registered a 7-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Now, as KJ Hamler finds himself sidelined from practice after suffering a hamstring injury last week, Fangio wants to see the receiver use his time away from the field to make similar improvements.

"He needs to do what Drew Lock did last year," Fangio said. "He's not going to be out as long as Drew was last year, but he needs to use this time while he's out to get better. How are you going to do that as a receiver whose got a hamstring and can't really run? The same way a quarterback last year had a right thumb injury and couldn't do anything. He's got to analyze and dive into this game from a mental aspect and picture himself out there every play getting a mental rep and going through it and learn it. Drew made great strides last year while he was out. We need KJ to make some of those same strides."

Hamler is likely to be back on the field within weeks rather than months, but if he's going to make an impact as a rookie, he'll need to find a way to learn the offense without the benefit of practice time. He's watched with a notebook during each of the last several practices, and perhaps he'll be able to use the time to his advantage.

THE BATTLE AT THIRD CORNER

As the Broncos look for a player to emerge as their No. 3 cornerback, Fangio wants the decision to be made obvious.

"I'm hoping to see that it's so obvious that you guys can make the pick for us," Fangio said to the media. "I don't think that will happen. I think they're very close. But I would like to see one guy surface above the rest and go grab the position and not win it by default. And they all have their pluses and minuses. They've got to accentuate their pluses more, eliminate their minuses and hopefully we'll find that guy. We've got about 19 days to do it."

De'Vante Bausby has missed the last two practices with a soft-tissue injury, but he, Isaac Yiadom and Davontae Harris appear to be the front-runners for the position.

CALL YOUR OWN FOULS

Unlike in previous years, the Broncos haven't had professional referees out at practice to call penalties. Due to COVID-19 personnel restrictions, Denver has opted to let its coaching staff identify infractions.

"We do critique them on that," Fangio said. "When we think there's a penalty, we point it out." 

For most coaches, that's not any different than a normal season. 

"We're trying to do a good job of that as coaches," Fangio said, "and a lot of coaches think they're officials anyway."

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