ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the early days of Broncos' training camp, Drew Lock has found ways to make plays.
Inside and outside of the pocket, the second-year player has bought time and fired downfield to a host of pass-catchers that include Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant.
His decision-making has been solid, his accuracy improved and his footwork relatively consistent. After posting a 4-1 record, all signs indicate that Lock should be able to take a step forward from his rookie campaign.
Still, there's clearly room for the young quarterback to grow. After receiving limited reps in training camp as a rookie, Lock relied largely on game-week practice reps to prepare for his starts. Apart from his limited preseason reps before suffering a thumb injury, there wasn't much to bank on. Now, he's the unquestioned starter and gets to take every first-team rep. Even so, he still lost out on hundreds of reps during organized team activities.
Perhaps, then, it's easy to see why Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur thinks Lock still has room to take strides despite having a strong start to training camp.
"I think he's done a good job," Shurmur said. "From an installation standpoint, he's doing a really good job of knowing what the concept is and going out there and executing. There are times — and this is part of his nature — I call them the 60-yard checkdowns, where he can break out of the pocket and keep his eyes downfield. He does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield, which I think is part of being youthful. It's him trying to continue to make plays. Sometimes your biggest plays come on scrambles because it's not always perfect. I think he's doing a good job there. The details and the tactics of things — I think he's getting better with all that. Quite frankly, for guys that come out of no-huddle operations — it's sad to say, but just working under center and being in the huddle calling a play. Although that seems to be natural for quarterbacks. In the old days, that's all we did. We played under center, and we called plays in huddles. When they come out of college sometimes, they're looking at cards, they get one word and they barely have an alternate snap count. Even though he's done a good job with that, those are things that he's constantly working on."
As Lock continues to master his understanding of the offense, the Broncos will move forward toward Sept. 14 with the goal of fielding the best possible unit. Through eight days of full-speed practice, Shurmur sounds pleased with the effort his offense has put forth.
"I think we're working hard," Shurmur said. "This was our eighth practice together. Typically, your eighth OTA is somewhere back in the spring. I feel really good about how all our players embraced the Zoom portion of the year. I feel good about their attention to detail and their ability to learn. When we go out to practice, we compete. There's always mistakes in practice, but I rarely see the same mistake twice, which is good. Normally when you compete against each other, there's good plays and bad plays. Sometimes, everybody wants to walk away from a practice and say the defense won or the offense won. I've never seen it that way. Sometimes the twos are going against the ones and the ones are going against the twos. Sometimes we're working on certain situations that are tilted more toward the offense or the defense. The important thing is to learn, to grow and to do a lot of the things that we're going to do during the season. We have to quickly develop an inventory of passes that we're going to go to — runs, RPOs [run-pass options], the things we're going to use during the season — and do it quickly."
After a shortened offseason and training camp, though, the Broncos may have to show some patience and improve as the season goes along.
"We're all going to have to grow," Shurmur said. "We've got 22 days and we're going to be playing a game. I think every offense this year is going to grow. Every team is going to grow from Week 1 to Week 16. It happens anyway. But I think the important thing is, no matter what you choose to do offensively, you've got to do what the players do best and what they can execute. I think that's where we're at and that's where our focus is. ... By nature, I'm not a very patient guy, but that's the way it goes."
AN EMERGENCY OPTION
Jeudy has worked with the punt returners during training camp, but Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon explained Sunday that Jeudy would only be used in that role under extenuating circumstances.
"I'll be honest with you, right now we're just trying to get him to catch that ball," McMahon said. "It's hard to catch a punt. He didn't catch them at Alabama. Everybody knows the returners that they have there right now. He didn't get a lot of opportunities to do that. He would be, in my opinion right now, more of an emergency guy. He does catch the ball well, but he has never caught one amongst traffic and returned one before he got here. NFL punts are very hard to catch. [WR] KJ [Hamler] was doing a great job catching them too. I know he's injured now, but he was doing a good job. Then [WR Kendall] Hinton's back there for the first time catching these NFL punts. To answer your question with Jerry, right now he's just doing a great job catching them. That's our biggest worry with him. We don't see him as being our starting punt returner. He's going to get us out of the game."
BETTER IN YEAR 2
Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell has worked with Fangio over each of the last nine seasons through stints with San Francisco, Chicago and now Denver. In each of their last two stops, Donatell has noticed marked improvement in the second season of their tenure.
"This history is our defenses — this is the third time we've been it in together — [they] usually spike in Year 2 because guys have a better understanding of everything that's going on," Donatell said. "This is a unique year. Vic has put a lot of hard work in the schedule and the challenge to players and staff. Our staff and coaches have responded in an extraordinary way. Just the way we work together — there's just a lot of teamwork going on between the staff and the coaches. He's challenged us. It's hard work. It's training camp. I really like the way everyone's responded."
A QUARANTINE 'Q'
Asked Sunday whether the Broncos had plans to add a fourth quarterback to the roster that they would keep quarantined in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in the position room, Shurmur declined to answer.
"That's a question for [President of Football Operations/General Manager] John Elway and his staff," Shurmur said. "I think we have a philosophy, but this isn't the time or place for me to reveal that."
Fangio had previously declined to reveal who would coach in his stead if he were to miss a game due to COVID-19.