The constant grind of the NFL never lets up. No sooner had the Denver Broncos completed their 2020 NFL Draft than the team had swiftly moved onto the next phase of the offseason.
We're talking about rookie mini-camp, OTAs, and the once taken for granted organized team meetings. However, a big question mark hangs over the 2020 NFL season and whether it will progress as scheduled. The league has contingencies in place to roll with the viral punches but the owners and commissioner remain hopeful that no such amendments will need to be made.
After all, training camp doesn't start until late July, and from there, it's the whirlwind of the preseason followed by the regular-season opener in early September. What's at risk currently, with most states still mandating social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, is the OTAs and rookie orientations, which traditionally begin about now on the NFL calendar.
Whatever decisions are being thrashed out behind the scenes at NFL HQ, the Broncos have to remain fully focused on embarking on a virtual offseason program of sorts. The importance of OTAs cannot be understated, especially considering that new Broncos' OC Pat Shurmur will be introducing a brand new offense.
It also goes without saying that additional reps on the field with his supporting cast, within the new strictures of Shurmur's offense, will be crucial to the ongoing development and refinement of second-year QB Drew Lock. Head Coach Vic Fangio spoke to the Broncos' website over the weekend revealing how hard everyone is working to master the new and unprecedented offseason set up.
“They are going to start on Monday,” Coach Fangio said earlier this week. “I’m sure there will be some trial and error with the total communication, because now you’re communicating with a bunch of different locations. We’re going to see how it goes, but we’re going to be aggressive to push the limits of this teaching situation because it’s critical, especially for our own offense and QB…with Drew [and] putting in a new offense".
Think about it. 90-some-odd players scattered across the country being gathered virtually through virtual programs like Zoom and Skype to be taught a new scheme, technique, play-calls — the whole nine yards. It's an enormous undertaking stretching the bounds of the plausible for even the most tech-savvy organizations.
Fortunately, everyone at Dove Valley is keen to get onboard with the continued development of Lock, so navigating the uncharted waters of virtual communication is a priority. GM John Elway is all too aware of the extremely different and challenging offseason as he spoke with NBC's Mike Tirico during a live segment.
“Obviously, he [Lock] still has a way’s to go," Elway told NBC. "He’s only started five games; he was on IR for 10 weeks before that last season. This offseason is going to hurt him a little bit because we haven’t been able to get in there, but [he’s] a guy we really feel like has a chance to be a good football player in this league for a long time."
Elway isn't the only one high on the Broncos' chances in 2020 under the leadership of their 23-year-old signal-caller. NBC's Peter King has already predicted 10 wins next season for the Lock-led Broncos. NFL Network's Nate Burleson also enthusiastically proclaimed post-draft that, “The Broncos are Locked and loaded, baby.”
Such optimism and high energy is all well and good but managing those expectations and keeping the young Broncos squad grounded with their collective heads in the playbook will provide the best path to success. The onus of getting back to the grind will ultimately benefit Lock the most, especially if the Broncos' coaching staff can successfully iron out any virtual gremlins that will inevitably crop up.
Reassuringly, KUSA's Mike Klis reported that several team sources had informed him that day one of virtual team meetings had gone off "without a hitch". Klis added that attendance was excellent, not counting safety Justin Simmons, who is not permitted to participate until he signs his franchise tag tender.
Most players had broken off into their own position groupings to work with their own coaches to make the system slightly easier and less daunting to start with. This will see Shurmur and QBs Coach Mike Shula work intensively with Lock in order to get him fast-tracked into their new offensive system.
Hopes are high that the WiFi connections remain strong for the next few weeks at the homes of Broncos' players and coaches so that the necessary frameworks can be put in place. Then, hopefully, we can see some light at the end of the tunnel and things can get back to some kind of normality at Broncos HQ.