It hasn't taken long for Teddy Bridgewater to make an impact.
After only five months with the Broncos, Bridgewater has earned the trust and respect of his teammates as a team captain and as the team's starting quarterback. Fans may have seen the latter play out on the field at training camp and in preseason action, but the former has taken place largely behind closed doors.
To get a better sense of Bridgewater's mental makeup, The Denver Gazette's George Stoia spoke with his family, friends and longtime confidants as Bridgewater and the Broncos prepare to head into the season.
"He's got that quiet confidence," General Manager George Paton said in August. "He's cool, and I think he's got that 'it'. He doesn't have to try to be a leader, but people gravitate to him. I mean we all do — I gravitate to him. You like having him around and you see him in the huddle."
Though Bridgewater will be starting in Denver, he has garnered respect and emerged as a leader at every stop in his career, regardless of role.
"He's been a starter, he's been a backup, he's been injured, he's been traded," former Louisville teammate Will Stein told Stoia. "It's just a credit to him and who he is as a person. He's been able to handle it. And people love him wherever he goes, it doesn't matter. He's just a lovable person."
Bridgewater has also gained the respect of coaches, mentors and football legends throughout his journey, thanks to his reliability, hard work and consistency, all of which earned him the nickname "Steady Teddy."
Among those is Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, who was introduced to Bridgewater via a mutual friend.
"In many ways, Bridgewater is the prototypical Parcells quarterback," Stoia wrote. "Since being traded to Denver in April, Bridgewater has shown a selflessness Parcells always searched for in a signal-caller."
That innate leadership will be essential for Bridgewater's success in Denver, as he takes the reins of a young offense that includes second-year receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, second-year C Lloyd Cushenberry and rookie RB Javonte Williams, among others. If Bridgewater can bring that young talent together and unite the team behind him, he could be exactly what the Broncos need to propel themselves back into the playoffs.
"I can tell you that you can expect consistency and that the Broncos have a player that's committed to doing things to help the team win," Parcells told Stoia. "He's not a selfish player, he's a team player first and I think that's what every team needs."
It's clear that Bridgewater is already putting that team-first mentality front and center in Denver.
"That's the thing that I love about football, it's the ultimate team sport where you put aside all your personal goals and your egos and you come together for one common goal — that's to win," Bridgewater said. "You can sense that around here. Everyone wants to win. Everyone has that mindset of whatever it takes. It's not about me, it's not about the next guy. It's about the team, and I love being a part of that."
Below the Fold
It's clear when you look at Denver's current secondary that Head Coach Vic Fangio and Paton were on the same page when it came to the offseason's No. 1 priority.
"[Paton] went through the same thing we went through last year at Minnesota," Fangio said, referring to Denver's struggles with cornerback depth in 2020. "We both have our scars from that."
In addition to extending S Justin Simmons and re-signing S Kareem Jackson, the Broncos were active in free agency, acquiring CBs Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller, two of the top CB options on the market.
In the draft, Denver doubled down on their dedication to their defensive backfield, selecting Pat Surtain II with the ninth-overall pick and adding safeties Caden Sterns and Jamar Johnson in the fifth round.
As The Denver Post's Ryan O'Halloran writes in previewing the Broncos' cornerbacks heading into the 2021 season, the plan for the Broncos' defense in 2021 is to "play so tight in man coverage that [OLB Bradley] Chubb, Von Miller and Co., can create consistent pressure on quarterbacks."
Speaking of Miller, who is returning this season after missing the duration of 2020 with an injury, the veteran OLB has nothing but praise for Denver's revamped secondary.
"In one year, George Paton, he's done an incredible job," Miller said. "All the guys that are out here, you can just tell he has his own touch with all these guys. All these guys have a purpose. All these guys are good. All these guys can play. We've got dogs at every single position."
Winning the turnover differential will be essential to the Broncos' success this season, particularly "in a division where six of their 17 games are against Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes (Super Bowl champion, NFL MVP), Las Vegas' Derek Carr (career 65.5 completion rate against the Broncos) and the Los Angeles Chargers' Justin Herbert (an emerging franchise passer)," according to O'Halloran.
If Denver can mirror their preseason success of forcing turnovers in the regular season, they could push themselves back into the postseason in 2021. With the talent they have stacked in the secondary, the Broncos are more prepared to win that battle than they have been in years.
"We can be great," Darby said. "We have veteran players. We have speed. We have smarts. We can be really special."