ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In one week, Broncos football will be officially back.
Drew Lock will lead the Broncos' offense out against a solid Titans defense, Von Miller will guide a defense that will need to stop Derrick Henry and we'll all settle in to see who starts the year off with a win.
In this edition of "Ask Aric," we take a look at some of the biggest questions facing the team ahead of Week 1, including the state of the Broncos' linebacking corps and where Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy fit in on the offense.
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I know Jeudy is the truth. Will he become Wide Receiver 1? - Ronald S.
Ronald, I've been impressed with Jeudy, too. He'll fit right into an NFL offense and seems like an instant contributor. But based on what I saw during training camp, Courtland Sutton took another step forward from his 2019 Pro Bowl campaign. We've long known about Sutton's ability to catch deep passes, but I was impressed with the connection between him and Lock on intermediate routes. Last year, when Lock needed a completion, he looked to Sutton. I would expect that to be the case early on this year, as well. He posted a strong second season with 72 catches for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns. I'd expect even better from him this year as he continues to prove he's the Broncos' top option.
When will we see the first depth chart? I'm very curious about the center position. - Mark B.
Mark, the Broncos released their initial depth chart on Monday, and Lloyd Cushenberry III was listed as the starter at center. I'm impressed that Cushenberry capitalized on his opportunity to earn the starting job, because it wasn't an easy offseason to be a rookie. He had to translate what he learned in the virtual offseason program to the field in short order, as the Broncos only had a few weeks of full-speed training camp practices. After initially taking a back seat in the competition for the starting job, Cushenberry made the most of his first-team reps and earned the job. Assuming he trots out with the first-team offense on Sept. 14, he'll be just the second Broncos rookie since the merger to start at center in Week 1. J.D. Walton, a third-round pick in 2010, is the only other player to do so.
Why did the Broncos cut Todd Davis? - Sam R.
Sam, as Head Coach Vic Fangio mentioned Friday, there wasn't one particular reason why the Broncos released Davis after he spent six seasons with the team. The Broncos added Mark Barron on Aug. 30, and Inside Linebackers Coach Reggie Herring said Barron would help the team in its nickel and dime packages. That's one area of need that the Broncos filled after Justin Strnad suffered a season-ending wrist injury. With as much nickel as teams play in today's NFL, Barron could see plenty of snaps for this defense. When the team is in its base defense, Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell are both sure tacklers. Johnson was a borderline revelation at the position last year, and some have listed him among the game's best. Jewell has experience, and over the last two years, he's held up well against the run. President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway singled out both Johnson and Jewell as players who had good training camps, so that likely gave the Broncos some comfort in moving on from Davis. Trading for Austin Calitro, a third-year player who provides depth and can contribute on special teams, likely only added to that. It's never easy to say goodbye to a long-time player, especially one like Davis, who was a multi-year starter. Their moves around him, though, meant they were able to turn to other players in the starting lineup.
I was just curious as to how KJ Hamler was doing, and how can Denver amplify their receiving corps without him? - Scott T.
Scott, Elway said that Hamler was "close" to returning and that he wouldn't go on the team's short-term injured reserve list that would've kept him out at least three weeks. That's a good sign in terms of his health, but that's only part of the equation. When he gets back on the practice field, we'll see how much of the offense he was able to digest from afar. He only participated in a few full-speed practices before suffering his hamstring injury, so he missed a majority of the reps during training camp. If he took Fangio's advice to mimic Drew Lock's IR experience, he may still be able to make an impact early in the season. Unfortunately, that's hard to predict until he gets on the practice field. When healthy, Hamler clearly added another element to the Broncos' offense and made a few highlight catches. They're a better offense when he's on the field. In Hamler's absence, the Broncos will likely turn to DaeSean Hamilton, who had a strong training camp. Hamilton caught 11 passes from Lock for 130 yards in the final two games last season, and it's clear the young quarterback trusts the former fourth-round pick. Don't be surprised if Hamilton makes a big play or two against Tennessee.
I understand it's still early, but looking back to the draft, do you feel like the Broncos made the right decision to draft Jerry Jeudy over CeeDee Lamb? - Jonah H.
Jonah, it's hard to evaluate Jeudy vs. Lamb right now (or vs. Henry Ruggs III, for that matter) because of the lack of preseason film. Everything I've read about Lamb in Dallas is that he's lived up to the hype, but if you're in Dallas reading the Denver media, you probably feel the same way about Jeudy. We'll see who performs in real games, but I urge you — and everyone who is a Broncos fan — to not overreact if Lamb is more productive early. He has entered an offense that has Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, which means there may be less attention on him. Besides, Jeudy has been everything the Broncos could've expected so far. He's been reliable and explosive and has all the makings of a player that should be highly successful in Denver.
The one concern I have is the O-line. Will they be ready to protect Lock? Wilkinson seems to have problems against both Miller and Chubb. Granted, he will not face Denver's tandem but he will have to face good/great pass rushers. If he is the weak link, what is the solution for that? - William L.
William, part of Wilkinson and Garett Bolles' challenge will be determined by whether Jadeveon Clowney (who was recently signed) and Vic Beasley (who spent most of training camp on the Non-Football Injury list) are able to play in Week 1. If one or both of the talented rushers are available for Mike Vrabel to plug in on defense, life gets a little bit more difficult for the Broncos' passing game. The Broncos will need to run the ball well to take pressure off the passing game, find ways to avoid penalties and other negative plays that put them behind the sticks and rely on Lock's mobility to help when one of the rushers gets free.