Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been on the job now for the Denver Broncos for three weeks. Since arriving at Dove Valley, Shurmur has spent time getting his new offensive assistant coaches up to speed on the scheme and going through the process of evaluating the Broncos' own free agents, as well as that of the open market.
We got a chance to hear from Shurmur in a very clipped and controlled four-minute conversation with Broncos TV last month. On Thursday, however, the Broncos rolled Shurmur out in style with his own introductory press conference where the forum for outside questions provided greater insights into the man Vic Fangio hired to take over the offense.
What did we learn from Shurmur's hello-presser? Here are the five key revelations.
Passing on Lock for Jones was an 'Organizational Decision'
As head coach of the New York Giants last year, Shurmur had the opportunity to draft Drew Lock. Holding the No. 6 overall pick, many draftniks predicted that either Lock or Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins would go to the Giants.
It ended up being Duke's Daniel Jones, while Haskins went at pick 15 to Washington and Lock slipped entirely out of the first round. One of the few noteworthy takeaways from the aforementioned Broncos TV interview was Shurmur confirming that the Giants indeed liked Lock, did a lot of pre-draft work on him, and were "certain" he'd be a successful NFL quarterback.
What Shurmur didn't say outright, or allude to, was whose decision it was to draft Jones over Lock. While he didn't blatantly specify the answer on Thursday, Shurmur did drop a possible hint for those keen on reading between the lines.
“Typically, when you draft a quarterback high, those are organizational decisions," Shurmur said. "At that time last year, the best decision—what we felt was best for the Giants—was Daniel Jones. I will say this: we had a very, very high opinion of Drew Lock. We liked him a great deal."
Shurmur would go on to compare Lock and Jones as "similar" players.
"There are a lot of similarities between the two players," Shurmur said. "They’re young, talented players that had very good college careers. Their skillsets are very similar. They can throw the ball well. They can move around well. You saw flashes of really good football from both of them this year as they played as rookies, so I’m very, very excited to be able to work with Drew Lock and really all the offensive players.”
Without saying it outright, Shurmur's use of "organizational decisions" makes it sound like the decision was ultimately made by those higher up the chain of command than he was, though he did use the possessive "we", including himself in that decision. Still, if he was trying to say that he liked Lock and GM Dave Gettleman liked Jones, without throwing anyone under the bus or outing someone publicly, using that verbiage would be a very savvy way of doing so.
Read into it what you will. Lock was a significantly more 'toolsy' quarterback with a limitless ceiling but one who came with a lower floor than Jones. Jones was the safer pick, while Lock would have been a little more 'swing for the fences'.
That's not to say Lock wasn't a first-round caliber QB, because he was. Even GM John Elway believed so and purportedly told Lock face to face at the Senior Bowl that some team was going to draft him in the top-10.
“I think when you come out of a process when you’re evaluating quarterbacks, you think they’re going to do well but you don’t know if it’s going to totally translate to the NFL game," Shurmur said of Lock as a draft prospect. "He had great success. He helped engineer four wins and that’s what we’re looking to do. I’m excited about being able to work with him in year two.”
As a former QBs Coach and offensive guru, if I had to bet money on it, I'd wager that Shurmur would have preferred Lock to Jones. However, if the opposite was true and Shurmur was as much a part of the decision to draft Jones as anyone, you would expect him to talk about "organizational decisions" when trying to explain away why he passed on the very QB he's now in charge of coaching.
Then again, Shurmur had three other OC offers around the NFL, and yet, he chose the Broncos. The chance to work with Lock had a lot to do with his decision to come to Denver.
West Coast Nomenclature With Andy Reid's Explosive Vertical Passing
Shurmur springs off the Andy Reid coaching tree. He spent many years as an assistant under Reid in Philadelphia before striking out on his own.
That means his core philosophy is the West Coast Offense and because of the Reid influence, it's also a variant that utilizes more of the spacing concepts found in the Spread schemes. The other common denominator? Vertical passing.
The Broncos are going to push the ball down the field vertically under Shurmur. With a big-armed gunslinger like Lock, it could be the perfect OC/QB marriage.
“You just have to throw it down there. I think that’s how you do it," Shurmur said. "I think we have some players that can be effective and make plays and be productive with a deep ball. I think it’s important that you do attack the defense down the field... I think you have to challenge the defense. One way to do it is to do it downfield. That’s how you get points. That’s how you move the ball. I know Coach [Fangio] and I both believe that’s something with the players that we have that we’ll be able to do.”
Shurmur also talked about how the offensive nomenclature is going to be West Coast-based, naturally, which shouldn't be too much of a departure from the verbiage used by Rich Scangarello last year. There will be a learning curve for Lock but it won't be nearly as steep as the one he experienced last year jumping from the University of Missouri to the Broncos' offense.
Strengths of the Players Will be a Focus
We heard Scangarello last year use platitudes that talked about putting players in the best position to succeed by scheming to their respective strengths. Unfortunately, it never really came out in the wash. It ended up feeling a lot more like an OC trying to force players to fit into his scheme.
Shurmur is a big believer in tailoring the offense to the strengths of the personnel and the big difference between he and Scangarello's 'coach-speak' is that Shurmur has many years of tape as an OC or head coach that proves it's more than that. Shurmur hammered on it multiple times during his Thursday remarks.
"I think what’s important is we want to do what’s best for the Broncos," Shurmur said. "We’re going to try to do the things that our players do well and try to do what we can to move the ball and score points. That’s what our offense will look like."
Shurmur not only springs off the Reid coaching tree but he has eyes, too, and will no doubt be looking at duplicating some of the great schematic successes the Kansas City Chiefs have spearheaded offensively.
“I’ve coached forever from that book," Shurmur said. "I think when you look at offenses though—we are all fond of the plays that work, but we as coaches are always trying to do the things our players do best. They have a unique skillset there that allows them to do some things that maybe some other teams can’t do. We just have to try and do the things that are best for us. ‘All-Go’ and ‘All-Go Special’ is the same in most offenses.”
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Getting Shula was a Big Deal for the Broncos
One of Shurmur's first moves after being hired was seeing to T.C. McCartney's dismissal so that he could bring in his own QBs Coach. That coach he had in mind was none other than Mike Shula, the same coach who ran Shurmur's offense in New York and coached the quarterbacks the last two seasons.
A surface perusal of Shula's resume can make anyone realize the quality of coach the Broncos got. But Shurmur couldn't emphasize enough how much of a get Shula is for Lock and the Broncos as he explained why he was so adamant about hiring him.
“A couple of reasons—number one, Mike’s an outstanding coach and number two, he’s an even better person," Shurmur said. "I knew about Mike prior to going to the Giants. Then having worked with him now, I think the Broncos are really lucky that he was available and willing to come here. He’s an outstanding coach, does a great job not only with quarterbacks but also with the whole offense. He called plays in the Super Bowl. I think the players here are very lucky that he’s here.”
Shula is an extremely accomplished and well-respected offensive coach. He's viewed as a QB guru around the league. Just the work he did with Jones in New York last year speaks volumes to his wherewithal. For a comprehensive breakdown of Shula's resume, check out this article.
I applauded the hire from the get-go, but seeing how adamant Shurmur was about Shula being a real gift to the Broncos, it's possible we all might have underappreciated how clutch that hire was for the team.
Munchak was a Deciding Factor for Shurmur
The Broncos lucked out by hiring Mike Munchak to coach the O-line last year. It started as a head-coaching interview, though that hire went to Fangio. Munchak was interested in the head job initially for multiple reasons, not the least of which was the fact that his daughter and grandchildren had recently moved to Denver.
So, when the job ultimately went to Fangio, Munchak was amenable to taking an assistant job because it brought he and Mrs. Munchak closer to their grandbabies. We knew then that the Broncos were extremely lucky to land Munchak. That was borne out by how he was able to make lemonade out of the personnel lemons the Broncos gave him in 2019.
Without Munchak, there's a good chance Shurmur doesn't take the OC job and goes elsewhere. Shurmur couldn't say enough good things about Munchak on Thursday.
“He’s an outstanding coach and person," Shurmur said of Munchak. "He goes in that Mike Shula category for me. He’s had great success obviously first as a player, but he’s an outstanding person, outstanding coach. That had a little bit to do with me coming here. I think for an offensive coordinator being around a tremendous offensive line coach that’s huge.”
Having a coach like Munchak takes a lot off the plate of an OC. It's a massive boon and an understandable draw for Shurmur to land in Denver.
Note: There were a few other gleanings I had from Shurmur's presser that I'll save for individual articles. These were the main five that qualified as revelations.