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'It's going to be a slow build': Broncos to rely on veteran defense as young offense matures

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After an offseason in which the Broncos loaded up on offensive weapons, hired a veteran offensive coordinator and put their faith in Drew Lock, President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway cautioned Tuesday that Denver's offense may be a work in progress.

"They're definitely tempered," said Elway of expectations for Lock and the offense. "I don't think we can expect with no offseason for us to come out and be hitting on all cylinders. I know that we have spent a lot of time in Zoom meetings and Pat and his staff on the offensive side have spent a lot of time with it, but there's nothing like being on the practice field. It's going to be a slow build."

Though Lock did gather his teammates for offseason throwing sessions and was a vocal participant in virtual classroom sessions, he likely missed hundreds of reps as organized team activities were forced to move online. Lock won't face an easy task as he looks to improve on a five-game stretch in which he went 4-1, completed more than 64 percent of his passes and posted a 7-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

"The expectations of Drew — I mean, he did play well for five games, but that was only five games last year," Elway said. "He didn't have the offseason this year, which for young football players is always very, very important. I know he spent a lot of time throwing to the receivers and getting the timing and doing what they could do away from the facility.

"We're very young on the offensive side. With the way training camp is set up, I always remember as a rookie it was important for me to see other helmets and not just Bronco helmets, but to see other helmets to get used to and realize, hey, they are now in the NFL. With our young team, that doesn't help us. I was hoping for a couple preseason games just because we are so young on the offensive side to get to see somebody else. We're going to have to deal with it. Today's world is adjusting, so we'll adjust to that. The mature kids will come in and do everything they can to get up to speed, but again, they're going to be young guys without an offseason program. We definitely have to give them some rope and temper it a little bit and take it one practice at a time."

Head Coach Vic Fangio said he's optimistic about the ability for rookies Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Lloyd Cushenberry III to contribute on offense — and Michael Ojemudia on defense — but he won't know for sure until they take the field.

"The early key is going to be they've all had the virtual offseason," Fangio said. "I think they all could pass a bunch of written tests that we could give them right now on their assignments, their responsibilities and their techniques. It will be interesting to see after a week of on-the-field work how much of that is translated to the field. I think they've all done everything they can up to this point. Taking it from the classroom to the field is the next step. Once we see that after a few practices, we'll be able to better answer that. I'm optimistic about all of those guys you mentioned and some others."

Asked about the offensive system as a whole, Fangio said he believes the team is "heading in the right direction."

"Obviously, Pat's a seasoned coach in the league," Fangio said. "He's been a coordinator and a playcaller even when he was the head coach. I feel good about where we're at with that and I'm looking forward to it."

That implementation of what Fangio called a "balanced" offensive system could take some time, but as Lock implements the new system in training camp and Shurmur looks to integrate newcomers like Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Melvin Gordon, the Broncos' goal will remain the same.

"Bottom line, we have to win," Elway said. "That's ultimately the bottom line. … The idea is we have to figure out how to win football games."

In their attempt to do just that, the Broncos will be aided by a potentially top-five defense that should keep Denver in games early in the season. In 2019, Denver's defense allowed just 19.8 points per game, and the unit should add a healthy Bradley Chubb and Bryce Callahan and veterans Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye.

"If you look on the defensive side, for the most part, with the players and veterans that we've added to the defensive side, with the veterans that have been here with another year of understanding Vic's defense and what it's about, obviously, we're going to have to lean on the defense," Elway said. "We have veterans on the defensive side that we can rely on as we grow as an offense. That's the hope. I'd love to see us come out and score 40 points against Tennessee on Monday night. I'm not saying that can't happen, but with the youth that we have, it's going to take some time. Hopefully we can play better defense with the veterans we have coming in and give us a chance.

"Ultimately, [the goal] is to win football games."

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