Drew Lock has been on the minds of Broncos Country for the last quarter of the season. Ever since the Denver Broncos got out to an 0-4 start, fans have been champing at the bit to get a look at the team's rookie second-round gunslinger.
However, as the Broncos have struggled now through the first half of the 2019 campaign, Lock has been hanging out on injured reserve. Per league rules, as of Week 6, Lock was eligible to begin practicing again.
But the team didn't make it happen, despite Lock going on record to say that he no longer feels pain in the thumb on his throwing hand that he sprained in the Broncos third preseason game. For many weeks now, it hasn't hurt to grip or throw the football. And yet, the Broncos delayed.
Now, in the wake of Joe Flacco's neck injury, the Broncos have run out of excuses on why they're continuing to slow-roll the return of Lock. Now completely healthy, Lock was in the team's locker room on Tuesday, as the Broncos begin preparations to take on the Cleveland Browns in Week 9.
Brandon Allen will start at QB for Denver, with undrafted rookie Brett Rypien expected to be promoted from the practice squad to serve as the backup. Meanwhile, Lock is strolling around the facility, hanging out at his locker, completely healthy.
It's never felt as if the Broncos have had a clear plan or vision in place for their rookie second-round QB. No move the team has made since he injured his thumb has seemed rational. In fact, the team's handling of Lock has generated some questions in the media as to whether the rookie has done something behind the scenes to either get on the front office's bad side, or has done something to give GM John Elway significant pause to play him.
And yet, Lock remains steadfast in his faith in the Broncos' plan for him, as we learned Tuesday.
"I think they have a plan," Lock said via Denver 7's Troy Renck. "We've talked about it a little bit. Obviously I trust them to put the plan in place whenever they think it's necessary, whenever they feel it's best for me to come back and practice, or come back and play. I'm just going to stick to my routine that I've been going through and then when I come back to practice, it'll be the first time actually taking a snap, playing with guys in over almost 10, 12 weeks now. So I think they have a good plan with that because like I said, I haven't been taking snaps with anyone to where I can come back. They want to get me some practice reps before they put me into a game without even practicing a little bit. So I think they have an awesome plan and whenever they feel like they want to put that plan in place, I'll be ready."
What is that routine that Lock has established and that he'll continue to stick to until the Broncos come to their senses and tap him to at least start practicing? We don't know for sure.
But what we do know is that Lock can at least do two things while on IR: 1.) Get 'mental' reps by using the team's virtual reality program and 2.) attend team and position meetings.
Confident but Obedient
What jumps out about Lock's remarks is the fact that he refuses to break ranks with the Broncos front office. He's going to toe the company line because he's smart enough to know that his time is soon coming.
It's only a matter of time before outside pressure, notwithstanding whatever rationale is taking place internally, mounts to a point that the Broncos cannot continue to forestall the issue. That's likely not the only reason Lock remains publicly supportive of the team's 'plan' for him.
He's a very smart and very charismatic young player. Simply put, Lock knows which way the wind blows and the truth is, franchise quarterbacks don't publicly question the team.
That's not to say that Lock is a franchise QB. We don't know that yet but there's no doubting he possesses both the tangible and intangible traits of a franchise thrower. He's obviously trying to model himself after what he sees around the NFL from his peers at the position. He's a smart kid. He pays attention.
And so fans will have to continue to wait and eat their hearts out while the Broncos trot out the likes of band-aid QBs Allen and Rypien. But with this team sitting at 2-6, I wouldn't get too worked up over it.
Once the Broncos greenlight Lock to practice, it officially starts the clock. The team will have just three weeks from Lock's first practice to either activate him to the 53-man roster, or keep him on ice on IR.
Three weeks. If that clock started today, that would encompass Week 9 (CLE), Week 10 (bye) and Week 11 (MIN). At that point, the Broncos would still have six games left to play in the season. But that doesn't mean the team has to wait three weeks, or any amount of time, before placing Lock back on the active roster.
Lock could be activated today and be suited up on the sideline this week vs. the Browns. But that's not how the Broncos are going to play it.
There's no Perfect Time
My bet is that the Broncos are going to indeed wait until after the bye to even begin practicing Lock for some inexplicable reason. Maybe the team's logic is simply waiting til Week 13 so that Lock can avoid having to make his NFL debut against two very stout defenses in Minnesota and Buffalo.
If that is the team's rationale, it's flawed. And it's weak. There is no perfect time to play a young QB. Denver can't wait until it draws the Miami Dolphins on the schedule to debut Lock.
If Lock is the player Elway thinks he is, he'll be able to weather the type of storm Minnesota and Buffalo would throw at him. Lock might not win those games but he sure as heck could compete and start getting what at this stage has to be considered his most precious commodity — experience.