ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — We're another Sunday closer to football season, and in this week's mailbag, we're taking a look at the Broncos' staff changes, the top battle of training camp and how this year's offense could compare to the 2013 edition.
As always, if you have a question for a future mailbag, feel free to click here.
And, before we begin, a very happy Father's Day to all of the dads in Broncos Country.
How many coaching changes on offense, defense and special teams have been made since last season? I see the most glaring changes that were needed involved play calling on offense and defense. What can we expect this year given the talent that has been added to this team? – Randy B.
Randy, the Broncos hired Pat Shurmur as their offensive coordinator, Mike Shula as their quarterbacks coach, John Pagano as their outside linebackers coach and Korey Jones as an assistant strength coach. We know the Broncos wanted to be more aggressive on offense, which led to Shurmur's hire. His history of taking shots down the field should help the Broncos achieve that goal. The defensive play calling wasn't an issue, but Pagano should be able to help get the best out of Chubb and Miller.
Is there anyone out at these workouts sessions that would make sure the plays are ran correctly? If not, they could be creating bad habits that won't be corrected until training camp. — Mark J.
Mark, no coaches are allowed at these off-campus throwing sessions and workouts that the players have reportedly held. If Drew Lock and Co. wanted to run plays, they do have their playbooks off which to work. After years of football experience, it's likely they're able to take the installation from the classroom and implement the plays on the field without coaching. If small tweaks need to be made in training camp, that's fine and should be expected. I think that's a worthwhile trade-off so that Lock can work on his timing with some of his receivers and running backs. It also can serve as another way for players to stay in shape during an unusual offseason. It is worth noting that the NFLPA's medical director, Dr. Thom Mayer, has suggested that players now refrain from holding these workouts before training camp to protect players from COVID-19.
In the Bolles vs. Wilkinson battle this preseason and camp, what do you think the main things to look out for are? — Zachary D.
Zach, I'll be looking for different things from each of the two players. From Garett Bolles, I'll be looking for improved technique and for him to have play-to-play amnesia. If he's called for one holding penalty, he can't allow that frustration to linger and result in another penalty on the next play or drive. As for Elijah Wilkinson, I want to see him stand up against the Broncos' elite rushers in camp without allowing a path to the quarterback. For as much as Bolles struggled at times, he allowed just four sacks in 16 games in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus. Wilkinson, meanwhile, allowed 10 sacks in his 15 games (nine starts). Wilkinson could potentially be an upgrade, but he must ensure that Lock stays out of harm's way. That, in many ways, is more important than a holding penalty or two.
The offense is looking as strong as ever. It almost compares, on paper, to the 2013 Broncos offense. So my question is, what pieces still need to be locked in in order for Denver to compete for the AFC West title crown this year? — Scott T.
I'm excited about this year's offense, too, but I'm not ready to compare this unit to one that scored the most points in NFL history and averaged nearly 38 points per game. That group featured Pro Bowlers in Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas and capable wide receivers Eric Decker and Wes Welker and running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball in the backfield. I suppose you could make the argument that with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon III, the Broncos' skill players possess similar talent. That group, though, also had a first-team All-Pro at right guard in Louis Vasquez. I suspect Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow will provide solid play — perhaps one of them will even make a Pro Bowl — but the Broncos' offensive line seems less proven. At right tackle, Ja'Wuan James will have to prove he can stay healthy. At left tackle, either Bolles or Wilkinson must emerge as a consistent option. The biggest difference, though, is at quarterback. Lock showed promise in 2019, but he's certainly not the All-Pro, record-setting, 2013 version of Peyton Manning. And let's be clear: while the Broncos' 2013 offense had plenty of impressive players, Manning is what made that unit spectacular. If Lock is simply above average, the Broncos' offense should improve dramatically given their abundance of weapons. A record-setting output, though, seems unlikely.
Do you think Tim Patrick will make the active roster? — Andrew L.
I do, Andrew. Especially in an unusual offseason, I expect Patrick will have an advantage over some of the other players competing for jobs because of his experience. Patrick is a proven entity as a big-bodied, outside receiver, as he has appeared in 24 games over the previous two seasons. Rookie Tyrie Cleveland and second-year player Juwann Winfree could push Patrick, but I suspect as the Broncos try to introduce Jeudy and KJ Hamler to the offense, Patrick could be a valuable veteran piece for the receiving corps. Patrick has a knack for finding the first-down market, as 14 of his 16 catches in his injury-shortened 2019 season were for first downs. He can contribute on special teams, too.
Noah Fant had 562 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 2019. More or less in 2020? — Cameron Burris
More, without a doubt. I'm bullish on Fant this season, and I think he'll take a step forward into the 60-70 catch range and post at least 750 yards and six touchdowns. If he can add a few more scores to that total — say, eight or nine — he could be selected to his first Pro Bowl. Last year, Baltimore's Mark Andrews made the Pro Bowl with 64 catches, 852 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kansas City's Travis Kelce bettered Andrews in catches and yards with 97 receptions for 1,229 yards, but he only had five touchdowns. Still, it was enough to send Kelce to his fifth Pro Bowl. I expect Fant will — at the very least — be in this year's Pro Bowl conversation.