From the Press Box: Cautious, not mile-high, optimism more appropriate for Denver Broncos

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Second-year quarterback Drew Lock has Denver Broncos fans riding a mile-high wave of optimism heading into the 2021 NFL season.

The second-round pick out of Missouri started the last five games of the season, threw for 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He led the Broncos to a 4-1 finish on the season and seems to have rejuvenated a fan-base that has been longing for a better signal-caller since Peyton Manning retired.

Since then, he has earned the trust of Broncos legend and general manager John Elway, who has pushed all his chips to the middle of the table for Lock.

The offseason was finally not about who is the next “guy” but how can the Broncos build around their young quarterback and out-score the Super Bowl champion Chiefs, led by the uber-talented Patrick Mahomes.

In free agency, the Broncos were relatively quiet, signing former Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, trading for Jacksonville corner AJ Bouye and Tennessee defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. They also added right guard Graham Glasgow to help shore up the right side of the offensive line.

They added another offensive lineman, center Lloyd Cushenberry III, in the third round of the draft, but that wasn’t the big story of the draft.

Elway validated his earlier statements about keeping up with Kansas City and added two wide receivers with the two first picks of the draft: Alabama wideout Jerry Jeudy with the first pick and KJ Hamler out of Penn State with the second pick.

These offseason moves along with the already young, but talented, offense (second-year tight end Noah Fant and running back Phillip Lindsay also return) and a defense who returns most of their pieces from last year and then some appear to have the Broncos poised for a bounce-back season.

National pundits have started to pick up on the Broncos as a dark-horse candidate, including my personal favorite Colin Cowherd.

Cowherd has recently come out and said, based on the trend of second-year quarterbacks being MVPs (Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and almost Carson Wentz). 

This optimism at the national level has Broncos country thinking they aren’t just homers for being optimistic about next year.

But as excited as I personally am for next season, as Lock now has all the tools he needs to take the Broncos to winning seasons and maybe even a playoff run, I am cautiously optimistic.

There are a handful of concerns I have, and none of them are necessarily Lock’s fault.

COVID-19 offseason — Elway has empowered second-year coach Vic Fangio this offseason and allowed the coach to move on from offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and the antiquated Kubiak/Shanahan offense. Offensive guru, and most recently New York Giants head coach, Pat Shurmur, is now leading the offense. While Zoom meetings are great, football can’t be played on Zoom. Lock and the rest of the offense may have learned the terminology, the play-book and receiver route trees. Hopefully teams can get into facilities soon and can do some on-field practice with the new offense.

Left tackle conundrum — Left tackle Garrett Bolles has a history of getting called for holding. It’s almost to the point where fans turn on him and have no problem chanting along with the referee, “Holding. Number 72.” His penalties came down dramatically once Lock took over, however, as he only had three penalties in three games with one of them being holding. I would have liked to see Denver pick up a veteran left tackle in free agency to push Bolles and battle for the spot in training camp. Instead, we are crossing our fingers Bolles improves.

Young offense — Lock isn’t the only member of the offense who is young. The oldest presumed starter on the offense is right tackle Ju’Wuan James, who was hurt the bulk of last year. Gordon and Glasgow are right behind him at 27, both weren’t even on the team last year. After them, the rest are players who have been in the league three years or less. That being said, the team chemistry is going to take some time. With no offseason, a presumed shortened preseason and a rough four games to start the season, Denver could be looking at a 1-3 start in 2020.

I am hoping this pessimism is just the result of seeing the Broncos miss the playoffs every year since Super Bowl 50, but the facts are what they are. If Lock has “it,” and I believe he does, none of this will matter and he will elevate the play of those around him like Tom Brady, Mahomes, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. 

But there will be growing pains, he only started five games last year.

John Lee is the editor of The Pampa News and can be reached at pampanewseditor@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @jcl1987.

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