It's been a true conundrum, trying to suss out the rationale that has governed the Denver Broncos 'plan' (or seeming lack thereof) for quarterback Drew Lock. As an injured reserve player, Lock has been eligible to return to the practice field technically for several weeks.
However, we're now entering Week 9 and the Broncos are yet to even greenlight the return of their rookie signal-caller to the practice field. In the wake of Joe Flacco's neck injury, it appears as if the Broncos' dragging of their heels on Lock is coming back to haunt them.
All indications, including from what head coach Vic Fangio said more than a week ago, are that from a physical standpoint, Lock is healthy. We learned a few weeks ago from Lock himself that he no longer feels pain in his formerly sprained right thumb when he grips or throws a football.
Fangio himself said that of the four IR players eligible to return to practice, Lock is the farthest along physically. And yet, we know WR Tim Patrick is practicing this week, but not Lock.
It has always felt like there's a lot more to the Broncos' delay tactics than Lock's health and with Flacco likely to miss the next 5-6 weeks minimum with a herniated disc in his neck, fans and media alike are demanding to know what the plan for the team's rookie second-round QB is.
On Wednesday, GM John Elway finally opened up and gave fans a peek behind the curtain of the Broncos' mystifying plan for Lock. In his weekly appearance on KOA radio's Logan and Lewis, Elway even revealed a tentative timetable for Lock's return to practice and it only muddies the water further.
“Well, first of all, we want to get him ready physically," Elway said. "He’s got all the ability to play in the NFL. Now, he hasn’t practiced since training camp, so he’s been playing catch obviously in his rehab but physically, he’s not ready to go yet either. That’s why we’re going to wait on that. We’re going to try to take advantage of the three weeks that we get with him because the bye week counts as a week of practice. We’re not going to do much in the bye week, so therefore it’s a wasted week. So that’s why we’re going to wait. We’re thinking about looking at the Minnesota week."
Elway says Lock "isn't ready physically", which contradicts what Fangio and even Lock himself has said. Lock is no longer injured. Mixed signals and contradictions yet again.
Now you can see why I used the term 'tentatively' because all Elway would say is that the team is "thinking about" and "looking" at activating Lock to practice during Week 11's preparation for the Minnesota Vikings. That road trip comes immediately following the team's Week 10 bye.
The day an IR player begins to practice, the team has only three weeks to decide whether to promote him to the active roster or keep him on IR for the season. So, part of what's apparently delaying the team in its Lock decision is that three-week window and how it coincides with the bye week.
Most teams will hold just two practice sessions during the bye, which is obviously atypical of a normal workweek ahead of a game. It's meant for rest and recovery for the players and self-scouting for the coaches.
If Lock were activated now, for example, that bye week would count in the NFL's three-week window for deciding on designating a player to return off IR and that fact appears to be impacting Elway's preferred timetable for Lock. However, there are two flaws in Elway's logic.
1.) The three-week window, or deadline, is only an issue if there's any doubt on the team's part of activating the player to the 53-man roster. Could there be any conceivable reason why the team would activate Lock back to practice without the full and committed intention of activating him to the 53? Week 10 is a wasted week for Patrick, too, but I don't see Elway waiting to get him on the practice field.
2.) The longer Elway waits to begin practicing Lock, the longer the Broncos will have to go before playing him. And there's the rub.
The bottom line is, the Broncos never wanted to play Lock in 2019 and only the misfortune of a 2-6 start and Flacco's injury is forcing the issue. And they certainly don't want to play Lock in Week 11 at Minnesota and Week 12 at Buffalo — which would be against two very stout defenses on the road.
The question is, why don't the Broncos want to get Lock onto the field? Why are the Broncos still dragging their heels?
Elway said he is reliant on the recommendations and reports from the coaches. Not so much in terms of Lock's health (he's healthy) but in terms of his knowledge of the scheme. That's fine, but how are the coaches supposed to ascertain anything about Lock's wherewithal in the scheme if he's not even practicing?!!
"I think the key thing is, it’s the conversation with the coaches," Elway said. "They’re with him every day. They’re seeing how he’s handling what we’re doing offensively. Like we’ve said, there’s a big jump coming from the system that he was in, to the system that we’re running now in the fact that there’s a lot more verbiage in the plays that we call, a lot more things that we do at the line of scrimmage. So that adjustment is the biggest thing, to be able to get him in a situation. Now, obviously, we would ask different things of him than we would ask of Joe [Flacco], just because of the difference in experience and where he’s been. But most of my information comes from where the coaches think he is. And that’s what I’ll rely on. We can watch him at practice and see how he does. But it all comes down to how he’s mentally adapting to what we’re doing on the offensive side.”
Again we reach a disconnect. Elway's message to the fans through media simply doesn't hold water or add up. It doesn't make sense. There's no way to accurately gauge Lock's progress in the scheme without him actually participating in practice.
Elway speaks as if by virtue of Lock practicing with his teammates, the Broncos are mandated to start him. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Broncos can practice Lock for as long as they want before actually starting him.
The longer the Broncos wait to even practice Lock the more the team risks botching his development. He needs to be able to take snaps from under center. He needs to be able to work on his footwork and drop-backs — with the coaches, for crying out loud.
How can the Broncos expect Lock to develop at all if they're not even willing to practice him? This ridiculous plan is costing Lock precious time to develop, learn and progress.
Lock himself remains publicly supportive of Elway's dictates but privately, he's got to be wondering what he got roped into by landing in Denver of all NFL places. This is the most bizarre handling of a rookie quarterback that I've ever seen. And then Elway says this.
“He’s a guy that’s very talented that can play in the NFL. He’s got all the talent."
If Elway truly believes that, why is he depriving his QB-talent-starved offense of Drew Lock? We'll probably never know the answer other than to assume that Elway's decision making is being governed through the rubric of some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder that is still lingering from the Paxton Lynch bust.
I'm sorry. Nothing else even remotely begins to explain it.