Drew Lock Explains the Unique Challenges of Bonding with Broncos Rookie WRs, Building Chemistry
The Denver Broncos entered the 2020 offseason bent on adding wide receiver talent that could make a difference. Little did the team know, a pandemic was just around the corner.
The NFL did a great job of of rolling with the coronavirus punches, staying on-schedule with its two tent-pole events — free agency and the draft. The Broncos signed free agents TE Nick Vannett and RB Melvin Gordon, while spending four of their 10 draft picks on pass catchers.
WRs Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler went back-to-back in Rounds 1 and 2, respectively, but GM John Elway didn't stop there. The Broncos drafted TE Albert Okwuegbunam in the fourth round and WR Tyrie Cleveland in the seventh.
From there, things got weird.
For the first time since the 2011 lockout, the on-field portion of the Broncos' Offseason Training Program was fully canceled. That meant no rookie mini-camp, and no Phase 1, 2, or 3 of OTAs.
The team tried to make the most of virtual meetings and long-distance communication but it's not the same as having 90 players in the same building, the same room, working toward the same goal. With no on-field activities happening at UC Health Training Center, second-year QB Drew Lock did what he could to make lemonade out of the lemons the pandemic provided.
Lock returned to the Mile High City in early May after being quarantined at his parents' home in Missouri and promptly set to work in gathering his teammates — both new and old — for unofficial workouts away from the team facility. Before long, the rookies joined him.
Those on-field sessions in Denver-area parks weren't just about throwing routes against air. Lock operated the entire playbook new OC Pat Shurmur brought to the Broncos back in January.
Undoubtedly, those Lock-led sessions helped establish at least a modicum of chemistry with his new receivers but where those practices lacked, the players have to hope to make up during training camp. With no preseason games this year, and a pandemic completely reshaping the day-to-day grind at Dove Valley, Lock is still working to overcome the challenges of bonding with his new pass catchers and creating chemistry.
“It’s different because we go into the cafeteria and you can only have a certain amount of people in there," Lock said on Friday during a virtual press conference. "If I’m doing this Zoom call, then I’m going to go shower. The cafeteria’s full because we’re taking the correct precautions around here, I technically can’t sit by Jerry. I couldn’t sit by KJ."
Even the small-talk encounters of shooting the breeze during a shared meal have been dispensed with. The Broncos Infectious Disease Emergency Response plan is comprehensive and will go to great lengths to prevent the coronavirus from ravaging the team. But the collateral effect of the IDER plan is the fact that it's far more difficult for players to bond.
"Even when we go to the classrooms, there’s [only] a certain amount of people that are allowed in there," Lock explained. "Really, it’s going to come from us being on the field, being able to build a relationship out there, show them that I’m here, I’m ready and I’m prepared. They’re going to show me the same thing so we can earn each other’s respect. Then after the respect is earned, that’s when the friendship comes."
Lock is trying to make the most of it when the Broncos actually can get out on the fields at UC Health Training Center. Even now, mostly throwing routes to Jeudy and Hamler against air, the focus has to be the reps. But Lock is also using the on-field time to get to know his new teammates, build respect, and earn a friendship.
"That’s when we can really start to talk and get to know each other," Lock said. "The easiest conversations have been standing outside six feet apart giving Jerry some crap about the Missouri-Alabama game and talking to all the guys about some college stuff because they just left from there. It’s pretty easy to relate since I’m only a year and a half, almost two years out of it.”
Lock is exuding real leadership during an extremely unique and trying time. It might take a little longer than it would traditionally but I have no doubt that friendship with Jeudy and Hamler and Cleveland will come quickly.
The real concern is forging actual football chemistry with such a limited number of reps. No preseason games means that the first-team offense won't be going against outside competition until the season-opener in mid-September.
It also means that those reps the young guys get during the preseason, even the rookies whose roster prospects are a lock, are gone. This particular training camp, it's all about the reps and making the most out of the classroom and meeting room so that the on-field work can be microwaved.
Complicating the entire process is the fact that Lock is learning a new system while trying to juggle these other challenges. Coach Shurmur has tried to simplify things by keeping a lot of what ex-OC Rich Scangarello installed last year, while putting his own spin on things and injecting his own go-to plays and formations.
This is why GM John Elway admitted that he's tempered his expectations for the Shurmur/Lock partnership in 2020. Lock, however, has not.
Lock views the coronavirus as something that is affecting all 32 teams on a level playing field. And considering that everyone only has 24 hours in each day, it's up to him and his teammates to make the most of them.
“Not being able to be with the guys as much as you normally would is not going to change how I feel going into the season. I still want to do the things pre-COVID that I thought we could do this year," Lock said. "We’re going to have a shortened period of time where we’re going to have to pick up a lot of things extremely quickly. It might not be the prettiest at first, but our job is to make the mistake, learn from it and try not to make that mistake more than once because we really don’t have time to keep making the same mistakes.
"I’m still expecting the same things from us this year because we’re going to put in the extra work to be able to make up for that time lost.”
Fans can only hope that the incoming rookies and new veteran faces share in Lock's philosophy.