ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos continue with their virtual offseason program, members of Broncos Country seem ready to get to real football.
In this week's mailbag, I answer questions about the best training camp battles to watch, how Melvin Gordon III and Phillip Lindsay could share the load and how the new collective bargaining agreement could impact game day.
As always, if you would like to ask a question, please click here.
I've heard lately that under the new CBA, teams are allowed to have 55 players on their roster instead of 53, but some also say that this information is inaccurate. Could you please clarify them for us, please? - Krittin P.
Krittin, the answer is both — sort of. For the 2020 season, teams will still have to cut down their rosters to 53 players ahead of the regular season.
Here's the change: On game day, teams can elevate one or two players from their practice squad to their active roster. That's where the 55-player roster comes from. After the game, those players revert back to the practice squad without being subject to waivers. Teams can elevate each player twice without risking the player being claimed by another team. If they choose to bring the same player up for a third time, the player then has to clear waivers before he can resign on the practice squad. This year, the practice squad jumps from 10 to 12 players.
Being on the roster, though, doesn't mean that player will be active. Previously, 46 of the 53 players on the roster can be active on game day. Under the new CBA, a team can have as many as 48 players active. If the team chooses to have 48 players active, at least eight players must be offensive lineman. If the team doesn't have eight linemen active, the number increases to 47 active players.
The changes give more players an opportunity — and it also gives teams a chance to strategize a bit more.
I think we're all aware of the lack of depth at OT. But I don't hear much about our lack of depth at QB. If Drew goes down for 3-4 games, is our inexperienced backup sufficient to win some games for us? - Dan B.
You're not wrong that Drew Lock needs to stay healthy. It will very likely be the difference between the Broncos snapping their playoff drought and the stretch continuing into its fifth season.
I'll say, though, that very few teams are able to survive a long-term injury to their starter. When Aaron Rodgers got hurt in 2017, the Packers bottomed out. The Colts went 2-14 in 2011 when Peyton Manning missed the season with a neck injury. There are a few notable exceptions — Nick Foles leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl title following Carson Wentz's injury — but largely, you're just hoping to survive in case of an injury to your starter.
Of course, if you can do better, that can make a season-changing difference. Think back to 2015, when Manning suffered a foot injury and missed seven games. The Broncos likely hoped for Brock Osweiler to hover around .500, which would've helped Denver back into the playoffs. Instead, he went 5-2 as a starter and helped the Broncos secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Manning returned during the final regular-season game, but without Osweiler's contributions, the Broncos wouldn't have gained home-field advantage.
That all leads us to whether Driskel is capable of leading the Broncos to a few wins in Lock's hypothetical absence. He's just 1-7 as a starter, and he's competed just north of 59 percent of his passes during his career. Driskel's posted a 79.6 career quarterback rating, which shows his capableness as a quarterback. If called upon, I'd expect the Broncos to ride their defense, rely on Gordon and Lindsay and hope Driskel can make plays when needed. His athleticism should also give him the chance to pick up some first downs. Would it be perfect? No. But it might be enough to let the Broncos grind out some much needed wins.
So, why would the Broncos choose to take Jeff Driskel as backup instead of Newton? It doesn't make sense to me. - Scott T.
Scott, I won't pretend to know if the Broncos would've had interested in Cam Newton as a backup, but it doesn't really matter in this situation. The timing just didn't work out. The Broncos agreed to terms with Jeff Driskel on March 17, and the Panthers didn't release Newton until a week later.
Could the Broncos have traded for Newton when it became clear he was on the outs in Carolina? Sure, hypothetically. The Broncos had already executed a pair of trades, though, and likely wanted to save capital for the draft.
I'm not here to tell you whether Driskel or Newton is a better quarterback and which fits the Broncos' system better. Newton obviously has more career accolades, but his health has been a concern over the last couple of seasons.
What I will say is that Driskel vs. Newton is never a decision the Broncos had to make. The timing ensured that.
I know that training camp is all about competition. We all know that the CB 2 position is up for grabs but could we see players like DeMarcus Walker and Josey Jewell push, not only for playing time, but for a starting position? - Jose B.
Jose, I have a tough time seeing either Walker or Jewell cracking the starting lineup — barring injury to a starter. At linebacker, Alexander Johnson replaced Jewell in the starting lineup last year and was somewhat of a revelation. On the defensive line, Walker would have to unseat some combination of Shelby Harris, Dre'Mont Jones and perhaps Jurrell Casey. I suspect Walker will be fighting for a roster spot because of the increased competition on the defensive line.
If you're looking for training camp battles to watch, start at left tackle, where Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson will face off. Running back, where Gordon and Lindsay will vie for carries, should be another good one. At tight end, there will be massive competition for the fourth spot behind Noah Fant, Nick Vannett and Albert Okwuegbunam. You already mentioned the cornerback position, but that will be another competition to watch.
If the season opens with no fans / reduced number of fans, what will happen to tickets that have been purchased? — Erin T.
Erin, the Broncos are preparing as if there will be a complete regular season in which Denver will host 10 games — two preseason and eight regular season. If, however, there's a situation where fans cannot attend games, the Broncos will offer full refunds or a credit for next season to season ticket members. If you bought/buy your tickets through an NFL-approved ticketing service, you'll also be protected in the case of changes. For more information, you can click here.
How do you think the Broncos will divide up the carries with a crowded backfield? - Will J.
Will, I'm going to focus here on Melvin Gordon III and Phillip Lindsay here, because I think the carries for the Broncos' third running back — whether that be Royce Freeman or LeVante Bellamy — will be relatively marginal.
If everyone is fully healthy, I expect that Gordon would get a majority of the touches — I'd guess around 60 percent — but I think Lindsay's workload should still be substantial. The third-year player has proven in his first two seasons that he's too good to not touch the ball.
Keep in mind, it's not like Lindsay had 20-25 carries a game last season. He broke 20 carries just once, and he often hovered in that 10-15 range as the team's lead back. He was still able to do damage, as he carried the ball 15 times for 114 yards against the Chargers and nine times for 92 yards against Cleveland. I believe Lindsay is at his best when he's fresh and can turn the 10-yard runs into 40-yard runs. His explosiveness declined a bit last year, so it'd be nice to see a reduction in carries — he jumped from 192 as a rookie to 224 last year — hopefully lead to more big plays for the offense.