Rome wasn't built in a day. And it certainly wasn't built in six weeks.
But that's all the time Drew Lock will get on the field to learn and assimilate the new offense the Denver Broncos are installing this year after hiring veteran coordinator Pat Shurmur. With the on-field portion of the Offseason Training Program canceled due to the pandemic and the entire preseason schedule nixed to boot, reps are limited and Lock and company are running out of time to master Shurmur's scheme.
The Tennessee Titans will be in Denver just 17 days from now for the regular-season opener on Monday Night Football. Fortunately, Shurmur's spread-based scheme is familiar to Lock who played most of his college career at Missouri in various versions of it.
It's also a scheme considered to be player-friendly. Still, if Saturday's scrimmage at Empower Field at Mile High taught us anything, it's that fans shouldn't expect miracles in Year 1 of the Lock/Shurmur partnership.
Lock and the first-team offense struggled on Saturday, with the second-year gunslinger throwing multiple interceptions. It's worth noting, though, the day's proceedings were replete with drops as the Broncos' receivers and tight ends struggled to haul in the ball consistently.
More than anything, Saturday's scrimmage was a valuable teachable moment for Lock and company in their pursuit of offensive perfection. Keep in mind, these plays Lock ran at Mile High have been seen daily by Vic Fangio's defense, and the structure of training camp and practice, especially with a young quarterback and offense, favors the defense.
Following practice, Lock put things in perspective for fans who might be breaking their knuckles with all the hand-wringing.
“I feel like [if] you do find a quarterback that’s not upset and hurt to the core after a practice where you kind of get your butt kicked, then you’ve got the wrong guy leading your team," Lock said Saturday via Zoom. "Of course, right now I’m upset. I would have rather played a lot better, but it’s a learning moment for me."
Pro athletes, especially quarterbacks, have to have short memories. Lock showed last year in his five-game debut to close out the season that he could quickly forget about a mistake and not let it haunt him throughout a game. But the crucial step in that psychological process is learning from it before completely dispensing with the disappointment.
"Obviously, the emotions are running high," Lock said. "I’m going to do that probably for the next 10 more minutes. Then I’m going to let it go. I’m going to figure out what I did wrong, watch my feet. I’m going to watch the plays. I’m going to watch what the defense did, see if they brought something different today. I’m going to just really try and correct myself over the next days until we get out there Monday.”
Make no mistake, the Broncos are in pursuit of offensive perfection. Is the team likely to attain it? No.
So if perfection is improbable, maybe the next-best thing is mastering the offense if you're Drew Lock. Easier said than done, especially with the truncated time allotment this year. The Broncos are trying to microwave that process.
"Another thing about training camp is this is never an excuse because it’s your playbook and you better master it, but you’ve got the whole thing," Lock said. "You have to be ready for every single play where when you go into a game week, you know what plays you’re about to run. You’ve practiced those plays the whole week. You’ve drawn the plays up multiple times to where maybe having just a little extra practice, keep pushing the practice, keep being perfect in practices, it will come together by Tennessee week.”
At the end of the day, Saturday's imperfect showing from Lock and the offense will provide the valuable film to study and break down. For the young rookies who've never stepped onto an NFL field, it was good to break that stadium ice, even without fans there.
There was a utility to the Broncos holding this scrimmage without fans because for the first two weeks of the regular season, the games will be played in an empty stadium. The Broncos are holding out hope that by Week 3 when Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roll into town, maybe Mile High will be able to welcome a limited capacity audience but that's a distant hope at this stage.
In lieu of fans, the Broncos will get empty bleachers and artificial crowd noise pumped into the stadium. It'll take some getting used to, suffice to say.
That, combined with all the nuances of substituting in and out, and practicing different game situations, made the Broncos' foray to the stadium worthwhile. But Lock and company's faux pas on Saturday could end up being a blessing in disguise if they're able to study the tape and recognize where they went wrong — individually and collectively — and learn from it to get better.
The most lasting lessons in life, and perhaps in football, come from our foibles and mistakes. That's what Lock's philosophy is, anyway.
“I’ve always been the guy who’s able to learn more from mistakes rather than being all daisies, all roses out there," Lock said. "It will be good for us to be able to go back and look at how we struggled, look at what we did wrong, especially like you said for those young guys. It’s big to struggle early I feel like. I got told this when I was in college. I’d rather—someone was telling me this, they’d rather me struggle early and be great later on. I’d rather us struggle right now, obviously, then be great when the season comes along.”
Exhale, Broncos Country. To quote Aaron Rodgers, "R-E-L-A-X."
This offense is still gelling and striving to assimilate the finer points of Shurmur's scheme while building chemistry and cohesion together. As Lock said, it's better to work out the kinks now than have the mistakes that popped up on Saturday come out in the wash in a game that counts.
There will be inconsistencies offensively this year, especially in the first quarter of the season, but they'll be punctuated by explosions of big plays and points going on the board. That's why there are three phases in football after all.
If the Broncos can play complementary football this fall, and each unit picks the other up when it falters, this team can still win a lot of games — even with an imperfect and inconsistent offense and a young quarterback still coming into his own.