ENGLEWOOD, Co.—The sea of Orange and Blue pouring into UCHealth Training Center for the first day of Denver Broncos training camp was a sight for sore eyes. Heck, the last time I covered Broncos camp two seasons ago, Joe Flacco was the starting quarterback, and players like Drew Lock and Dalton Risner were bright-eyed rookies who just landed in Denver.
Fast forward two years and John Elway is no longer the general manager, head coach Vic Fangio’s job could be in question, and the Broncos are still desperately searching for a blueprint to win football games.
Sure, the Broncos look talented on paper. Yes, this team has Pro Bowl talent and a defense that should be among the NFL’s elite. But on Day 1 of training camp, players started the literal fight for their respective careers at every level from the starters, alternates, and men who hope to make the team or practice squad.
What did we learn? Let’s dive into three noteworthy storylines that were revealed on Day 1 of Broncos camp.
Lock vs. Bridgewater: Day 1
Lock: As the incumbent, Lock took the first-team reps to start the day, just as Coach Fangio declared on Tuesday. However, the challenger Teddy Bridgewater took first-team reps during 7-on-7 drills, giving credence to the 50/50 the Broncos have pushed all offseason.
However, as Lock and Bridgewater face-off, it’s important to keep the context in mind through each rep as the play, position of the field, and situational aspect completely vary and are unique. Although Lock had his share of over and underthrows during various periods of practice, it was glaringly obvious that the third-year signal-caller has fully embraced this fight for the starting job — and for his career.
The Missouri native was deliberate in focusing on his footwork both from under center and in the shotgun. Lock also changed up his pre-snap cadence, which for lack of a better word, 'drew' the defense offsides. These small details tell me that Lock has embraced not only the grind of being an NFL QB but is attempting to master the smallest of details that separate successful guys from busts.
One of Lock’s best throws came during an approximately 30 to 40-yard post-route that resulted in a touchdown to wideout Trinity Benson. While some might be quick to argue that the success of the play came against depth cornerback Parnell Motley, I’d insist that improvement matters in all aspects of a QB’s game.
Lock still has the rocket arm and demonstrated sharp accuracy at times on Wednesday. But he must continue to prove he can produce on the field rather than live off a surplus of potential.
Bridgewater: The veteran played as he has for most of his career, steady and consistent. Surprise, surprise. Teddy comfortably progressed through his reads and threw the ball relatively quickly with a strong release. He also appeared to have a slight edge in confidence, especially on bootleg passes or situations in which he needed to throw his receivers open.
In team drills, Bridgewater nearly connected on a deep go-route with second-year wideout Tyrie Cleveland after a slight overthrow. If the connection happens, perhaps Bridgewater wins the day. Regardless, the 28-year-old veteran, who’s on his fifth NFL team, recovered in the 7-on-7 team period on crossing routes and check downs to the tight ends.
Teddy could also be seen visiting and chatting with the Broncos' defensive backfield including Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson when there was downtime, furthering the truth that his teammates gravitate towards him.
If I were to pick a QB winner for the day, it would be Lock, but barely. And it's not because Lock didn’t earn it, but because it’s too early to tell. Although both Teddy and Drew had fantastic throws that caffeinated the sidelines and fans, there were also a lot of mistakes and mental errors from both QBs.
Teddy is much more deliberate and comfortable in his reads while has improved his ball placement accuracy immensely. The high school and college days of Lock dominating opponents with a strong arm are over. The name of the game in the NFL at the QB level is accuracy and preventing turnovers.
Maybe it’s time to mention presumed the third-stringer Brett Rypien who threw two scores himself. First, Rypien connected with Benson on a post-inside route for the score, and then one to KJ Hamler on a sharp post. While neither QB threw an interception on Day 1, or had a complete mental lapse, Lock’s velocity and athleticism outweighed some of the safer throws from Bridgewater.
Jerry Jeudy's Momentum Trending him Toward Star Status
After being selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft (pick 15), there was the presumption that Jeudy would immediately step into the NFL and dominate as an elite route runner. However, his 10 drops caused intense criticism of the 22-year-old receiver, who also published less than flattering and cryptic messages on social media last season.
But just as he’s proven in OTAs and minicamp, Jeudy has been perfecting his craft: catching the football. The former Alabama star hasn’t dropped a single ball since the league year began last March, and the streak continued on Day 1 at camp. His quick and decisive feet kept defenders sliding or being shaken off, something Jeudy has become renowned for in his game.
Jeudy was continually on display catching what seemed to be overthrown or low balls from both Lock and Bridgewater. Not only was Jeudy able to make the necessary adjustments when needed, but the second-year wideout was also leaping into the air and stretching out for any ball thrown in his vicinity.
The Florida native brought contagious energy to the offense and could be seen on multiple occasions finishing the play in the end zone to fully complete his rep. Jeudy was also observed hyping up fans who traveled far and wide to get a glimpse of the budding superstar.
As camp progresses, I can’t help but feel that Jeudy’s second NFL training camp performance will match the Rocky Mountain weather currently at Dove Valley. Scorching hot.
New Year, New Start for Melvin Gordon
I’ve been critical of Gordon since Denver inked him to a two-year, $16 million deal that included $13.5M guaranteed last year. Four fumbles in addition to his DUI charges that were ultimately dismissed, paired with Broncos Country’s undying love for Phillip Lindsay, didn’t allow the former L.A. Charger to start on the right foot.
However, Gordon would go on to start 10 games for Denver, totaling 986 rushing yards (4.6 yards per attempt) and nine touchdowns on the ground. While he’s known for opting out of voluntary workouts during OTAs, he kept his word, showing up to mandatory minicamp in shape and even sported a new haircut sans dreadlocks.
On Wednesday, the veteran running back started his 2021 season with a bang. Gordon ran with increased speed and exploded through inside holes in team periods. He was also one of the only players to finish his rep with enthusiasm and sprinting to the end zone regardless of the play result on more than one occasion.
During the special teams period, while other players cooled off and rehydrated, Gordon followed the QBs to an open space where he caught passes from all three of including Rypien. Now, I know that this isn’t the biggest headline in the NFL world, but I saw a motivated and team-oriented player in Gordon on Day 1.
I saw a man that is competing for his starting position after fellow running backs Javonte Williams, Royce Freeman, Mike Boone, and Levante Bellamy all saw heaping doses of action on Day 1. I didn’t see the same Gordon that ran out of bounds against the Las Vegas Raiders last season to pad his stats.
Ultimately, the Broncos will need a stable of backs to complete the 2021 season as a rushing football team. But Denver might just benefit from an extremely motivated, concerned, and reinvigorated Gordon who was brought here to resurrect the culture of ground-and-pound football.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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