ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As quarterback Drew Lock approaches his first full season as a starter, Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur has been impressed by the young signal caller's ability to digest a new system.
"I was very impressed," Shurmur said via Zoom conference on Thursday. "He was able to keep up with the installations when he and the rest of the quarterbacks and [Quarterbacks Coach] Mike [Shula] and I would sit down and just generally talk concepts. I think he's got a really good feel for the game. He's developing a good feel for what we want to do. If the rumor is true that he's throwing to our players, I think he's learning something there. We'll just try to put it all together here come July."
Shurmur referenced Lock's reported off-campus throwing sessions with teammates on several occasions. While players are not currently permitted to participate in on-field football activities with their coaches, they can voluntarily gather away from UCHealth Training Center.
Lock has reportedly gathered with several teammates to throw — and Shurmur joked that he heard the sessions had made an impact.
"It's been awesome to work with him," Shurmur said. "Unfortunately, it's been remote. I think he's embraced what we're planning to do on offense. There's a rumor that he's working with the players by himself. That's a rumor that I heard. Also, along with that rumor, I heard it's going well."
Shurmur has implemented a system during virtual meetings that should utilize a series of weapons that includes Lock, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, KJ Hamler, Melvin Gordon III and Phillip Lindsay.
"I think it's important to have good players at all positions," Shurmur said. "When you add explosive players to the roster, it not only helps them as players to have an impact, but it also helps the rest of the guys. I really do think you have to spread the ball around. Typically, in games that you win and play good offense, when you look at the stat sheet at the end of the game, there's probably six or seven guys that caught passes, there's probably two or three guys that ran the ball. I really do think if you're going to play good offense, you need threats outside, inside and in the backfield. It's going to be fun. I feel like the remote portion of this year was very productive. We as coaches, we're really, really excited to get the players on the field and work with them when we come back here for training camp."
Shurmur tailored his system to the Broncos after watching each of the team's snaps from last season. As he did so, he aimed to mesh his offense with successful elements of the Broncos' system from 2019.
"There were some things that they did well on offense last year that tactically we will continue to do," Shurmur said. "And then you kind of add that to the stuff that will be new. That was the starting point, and then listen to the coaches speak. … As two worlds come together — last year's world and my experience — there's always things you can add that can help the players be successful tactically. I think also you want to listen to the [offensive] line coaches so that … some of the calls can be the same [if possible] and there's some familiarity so it's not totally new. There's going to be a great deal of new stuff, but … they've got reps in the bank from last year that will be helpful moving forward."
When the Broncos are finally able to hit the practice field together — both coaches and players — that overlap could prove invaluable. As Shurmur explained Thursday, the Broncos won't have reps to waste. Currently, though, Shurmur said he's not concerned about the lack of reps for his young offense.
"I guess obviously I would be less concerned if we were able to practice and I'd have a better feel for the players," Shurmur said. "I think it's about the players and putting them in the best position to be successful. I do feel with the amount of practice time that you have during training camp, we'll get a feel for what they can and cannot do. … What you don't have the benefit of — and we've all done this as coaches — there's not a lot of play tryout. You don't have the ability to run a bunch of things that you would not choose to run in games. That's where the work behind the scenes is going to be very important. I feel good about the concepts that we're going to try and run.
"… You can't stand there at the plate and take a bunch of called strikes. You've got to get to work, and you've got to work on the things that are going to be very important."
DAY 1 STARTER?
After the Broncos drafted center Lloyd Cushenberry III in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Head Coach Vic Fangio said he would compete for a starting job.
And despite missing offseason on-field reps as a rookie, Cushenberry has found a way to impress his coaches in the early going.
"He's been doing an outstanding job," Shurmur said. "He's very smart. He's very intuitive. … You can see why he plays center, because obviously they handle a lot mentally up front. He did a great job last year at LSU, and he's really impressed us with how smart he is and his football awareness. That's the starting point. I can't tell you how hard it's going to be for him to start. This is a unique year. The only thing I would compare this to obviously was the lockout year where in that year, we didn't even have the virtual stuff. So a lot of us were meeting our players for the very first time if you were a new staff. But he's impressed us. We feel like we've got to see him. We've got to see him compete, we've got to see him work. Once they get out there and start doing it, we'll see how quickly he can master it."
Cushenberry could benefit from playing alongside Graham Glasgow, a fifth-year pro who signed with the Broncos this offseason.
"He is a solid football player and he's been very, very productive," Shurmur said of Glasgow. "I've watched him play throughout his career. Obviously, my years in Minnesota [I was] watching him. When he was available and he decided he wanted to come here, we were thrilled. He's an interior player that has done an outstanding job. When you can bring a guy that's done it very well for a very long time and add him to your lineup, I think that'll be helpful. So that experience will help us, along with the fact that he's an outstanding pass blocker as well as a run blocker."
ROOM FOR TWO
As Shurmur emphasized several times on Thursday, the Broncos will utilize both Gordon and Lindsay in their offense.
"They'll have specific roles," Shurmur said. "… I think there's times when they both can be on the field at the same time. There are times when one or the other will be on the field. … When you're a running back, you have to obviously be able to run the ball effectively, which they both can do, whether we're running the ball inside or outside. You have to be aware enough and physical enough to pass protect, to protect the quarterback. And then when we choose to throw you the ball, whether you're primary [option] or you're the outlet, you need to be able to catch the ball and do something with it. I think both those players that we're mentioning — not to mention the other runners we have on the team — they can do all three of those things. What separates a running back and both those players have it, Phillip as well as Melvin and Royce and really all the backs, is you've got to have some collision balance. Your ability to break a tackle, bounce and create what normally is a good gain into an explosive one. They share those traits. They've both been very productive in this league, and we intend to use both of them."
BACK FOR MORE
A year after Sutton earned his first career Pro Bowl berth and caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns, the SMU product could post even better numbers in his third season.
"Courtland [is] obviously a very dynamic player," Shurmur said. "He can make plays down the field, which I think is so important for a receiver of his size. But he runs good short and intermediate routes, as well. I got to meet him for the first time this past weekend, and I'm really looking forward to working with him. I've seen him obviously every morning on the Zoom meetings and he's got great questions, he's got a great feel for the game. I'm anticipating he's going to kind of pick up where he left off a year ago."