When it comes to measuring the magnitude of each decision the Denver Broncos made this past offseason, the move to jettison with Rich Scangarello in favor of battle-tested veteran offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur might turn out to be the most fateful. The decision had Vic Fangio’s fingerprints all over it.
While the upside of making such a bold coaching change is fairly obvious, due to Shurmur’s offensive track record, it’s not without a large element of risk. Young quarterbacks like Drew Lock are often bubble-wrapped by their respective organizations so as not to overload their minds with different systems and terminology too early in their development.
The Broncos were accused of molly-coddling former first-round bust Paxton Lynch in the recent past, but this time around, the team seems entirely comfortable with Lock’s ability to deal with change and still thrive.
Shurmur was part of a perfect storm when it came to replacing the floundering Scangarello, with the former's brief being — open up the Broncos offense. Shurmur's long-anticipated departure as head coach of the New York Giants made him the ideal man to be tasked with developing Lock into an elite-NFL QB.
It was an ambitious hire and one that former NFL head coach Brian Billick was impressed with. The Super Bowl-winning ex-head coach of the Baltimore Ravens recently appeared on the Schlereth and Evans show on Denver's 104.3 The Fan to share his observations on Shurmur and Lock.
“The toughest thing for Denver and for Drew Lock and new coordinator Pat Shurmur; who was a great hire—you are talking about a veteran, experienced coordinator that’s going to bring some, I think, stability to the offense and what they’re doing there in Denver," Billick told hosts Mark Schlereth and Mike Evans.
Providing some vital stability moving forward is a long-term objective, with Lock’s successful 4-1 late-season audition serving as an encouraging foundation. Billick suggested that Shurmur will have by now forensically picked through Lock’s game tape from his rookie year and the knowledge gleaned therefrom will play a major part in further developing the young QB’s skill-set in Year 2.
“The biggest jump in improvement and knowledge of the game for a young player typically happens between the first and second year,” the ex-coach observed. “I mean, you come in and it’s just a blur the first year and now you get to the offseason and you can go back, go through the film and kind of process what really happened. What did you see? What did you think you saw? And kind of progress through it.”
The Broncos seemed sold on Lock’s talent after seeing him start five games to finish out the 2019 season. His ability to adapt to the offseason turmoil caused by COVID-19 with such dedication and maturity has seen the team's external expectations shoot off the charts.
That being said, the virtual platforms eventually have to give way to the pads and helmets going on for real as the live bullets fly. That process begins this week — in effect — as the Broncos begin training camp.
As part of the deal negotiated between the NFL and the NFLPA, there will now be no preseason games to tune up Shurmur's new offense. Consequently, the next six weeks of in-house preparations leading up to Week 1 will be absolutely pivotal in the expert opinion of Billick.
“I’m sure Pat Shurmur has communicated with Drew and gone over the film and done things as best as you can virtually,” Billick told The FAN. “But now, the next six weeks, it’s going to be a lot about that. It’s going to be a lot of time between Pat, you know getting Drew Lock used to what Pat Shurmur wants to do.”
Spending as much time as possible together in the same environment, both in the film room and on the practice field, will help Shurmur flesh out the bones of is where his QB stands in his development. Establishing what to keep and throw away from last season’s body of work will also be instrumental in getting rookie WRs Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler quickly up to speed alongside Lock.
“Getting back together and analyzing what happened last year and trying to see if they can build on that,” Billick said. “And that Drew can now have a better recognition of, 'Okay, this is what I saw…this is what I thought I saw…this is what it was.' And then, obviously learning the new offense and continue to integrate these new players like the two new draft choices.”
What is already emerging is that the future trajectory of both the OC and QB are firmly interlocked. Shurmur is could be hoping to harness the Broncos OC job to springboard himself back into the head coaching ranks but with two failed stints now on his resume, nothing short of molding Lock into an elite signal-caller will likely re-open that door.
Similarly, Lock has to prove he can learn a new offense and rapidly improve from Year 1 to Year 2 — if he is to justify the confident swagger he has already displayed. So far, the Broncos are comfortable with the big coaching change they've orchestrated.
Counting on Shurmur and Lock to gel and successfully navigate these difficult 2020 circumstances comes with its fair share of upside potential as well as its down-side risk. As Billick said, the first step for Shurmur is laying a stable foundation for Lock to springboard into the future. Only time will tell how it shakes out.