For the past two weeks, Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater have been splitting first-team reps competing for the privilege of leading the Denver Broncos as the starting quarterback. Bridgewater, acquired via trade on April 28, didn't really step foot on the grass of UCHealth Training Center until last Monday but things immediately heated up when he did.
As the incumbent, Lock has focused all offseason on building on the things he did well in 2020 and fixing the aspects of his game that were less than ideal. From importuning Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning for a 9-to-10-hour film session to working alone in the basement of his home on his drops, reads, and other technical refinements, Lock has thrown himself into the process of really trying to maximize his opportunity in Year 3.
Time will tell exactly how that comes out in the wash for Lock. Meanwhile, Bridgewater has been reunited with Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who coached the former Minnesota Vikings' first-rounder five years ago, though most of that tenure together saw the QB sidelined with a grievous knee injury that almost ended his career.
Thanks to that history together, though, Bridgewater hasn't had to start from scratch in Denver. There is at least a base familiarity with the scheme and nomenclature.
As Coach Shurmur took to the virtual podium following Wednesday's minicamp practice, most of the questions were regarding the Broncos' quarterback situation and the burgeoning QB battle taking place. Off the bat, after Lock put a notch in the win column following Monday's practice, which was followed Tuesday by a more inconsistent Day 2 performance, Shurmur talked about whether the third-year QB has improved this offseason and if so, how.
"Drew, obviously, has made great progress from a year ago," Shurmur said via Zoom. "Last year, he kind of went into the season raw without having really an offseason and he worked his way through it. He did a lot of good things last year. And I think he kind of built on the good things he did a year ago."
Shurmur has harped steadily on the lack of reps he and his offense had to work with last year due to the pandemic. Fortunately, the Broncos have garnered a more traditional helping of reps this offseason, which the offensive coordinator quantified as "half a season's worth."
Shurmur believes those reps have provided the Broncos, especially the quarterbacks, with a good "foundation." As for the state of the QB battle, Shurmur provided at least a modest update.
"I think they're both getting better," Shurmur said. "Obviously, they've both gotten work with the ones. They both had a chance to really share the workload with regard to the reps. I've seen improvement in Drew—the decision-making, his timing, his accuracy. And then, getting a feel again for Teddy, you can see the things he does well. For Teddy, it's more getting up to speed with what we've done. And he's right on board with the new things that we've done. It's been good. I'm sure Coach Fangio has probably talked about where this is competition-wise but we've got a lot of work left before we play the opener. I think we've built a really good foundation—not only for the quarterbacks but for the team going into training camp so we'll be ready to go."
The Broncos are very young offensively, virtually, across the board. If it's not a rookie, it's a second- or third-year guy looking to make a leap in 2021.
Shurmur's expectations for them?
"Just to be more consistent, me more explosive, just keep doing all the things you do better. Have more good plays, less bad," Shurmur said. "These offseason training sessions—the OTAs, the minicamps to this point—have been very beneficial. They can take what we did last year, plus parts of the offense that we've grown, and just improve on it. And it's been really good. I can't say how meaningful this has been—just working on the fundamentals, the techniques, the getting in and out of the huddle, the cadence, executing audibles, throwing and catching, running backs running their paths—all the things you need to practice."
One of the predominant storylines of this QB battle is how different Lock and Bridgewater are relative to each other. Their respective skill-sets, while complementary in some ways, are in others polar-opposite. Shurmur doesn't really see them all that differently, though, as he explained, because, regardless of one guy's pros and cons, he still has to figure out how to get the sausage made within the framework of Shurmur's scheme.
"They are and they aren't [differnet]," Shurmur said. "I think when folks watch them play or practice, you say, 'This guy can do this, this guy can do that,' but they both, when they're on top of their game, can execute at a high level, lead our offense, get completions, and get the ball in the end zone, so they've just got to continue to do that within their own skill-set to the best of their ability."
While the coordinator downplayed the differences between Lock and Bridgewater, he did acknowledge that certain packages will be tailored to the QB, depending on which one ultimately emerges as the starter.
"In terms of the package of plays, I think they're a little bit different in style but they both can execute in the way we need them to," Shurmur said. "And then the package deal, with regard to that, it depends who the starter is on what you kind of tweak the offense toward."
Some fans have questioned the wisdom of pitting Lock in a competition with Bridgewater because it whittles his rep-share with the first team down from 100% to 50%. In so doing, it's salient to wonder whether that has an effect on the skill-position players and offensive line, as well as the coaches.
At the end of the day, though, Shurmur rests in his confidence that competition is the ultimate refiner's fire that provides the furnace to hone a player into the sharpest, shiniest gem possible.
"It gets the best out of everyone," Shurmur explained. "It's just like any position group that competes... It's the competitive nature of the game. When guys are competing, and they're on their toes, and they feel the urgency to perform at a high level, then they perform at a high level more frequently. And that's what you're looking for. So that's how it benefits things. The reason that we all play this game, the reason we coach this game, and the reason we're involved in this game is we understand and we embrace the competitive nature of this game. So we're just zeroing in on one position."
For now, Shurmur is in line with head coach Vic Fangio's mandate that no decision on the QB competition will be reached until the summer fully plays itself out. That means the preseason at the earliest.
As the Broncos return to the practice field on Thursday for the last session of mandatory minicamp, the players will get a six-week break before descending back on Dove Valley to kick off training camp in earnest. Both Lock and Bridgewater plan to continue working through the break.
When training camp arrives, the gauntlet will get thrown down again, and this battle will truly take shape before the very eyes of the fanbase (which will be allowed to attend and watch camp practices again) and media. Until then, it's fun to speculate and render bold predictions on which QB one believes will emerge on top but for now, the Broncos genuinely seem to have no particular dog in the fight.
Shurmur and Fangio are content to let this play out and let the dominoes fall, secure in the belief that the crucible of competition will produce the best possible quarterback to lead the Broncos into the 2021 season.
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