One of the juiciest headlines of the 2021 offseason has been the burgeoning student/teacher relationship between Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning and Denver Broncos' quarterback Drew Lock. Manning wore the Orange and Blue for four years, leading the Broncos to four straight division titles and two Super Bowl berths before winning it all in 2015 and promptly riding off into the sunset.
Four years later, and many signal-callers in between, the Broncos drafted Lock in the second round out of Missouri. Lock hit the roster behind Joe Flacco and injured the thumb on his throwing hand in the team's third preseason game, which saw him placed on injured reserve.
Lock was activated in Week 13, and went on to win his first career start and lead the Broncos to a 4-1 finish in 2019. That next offseason, the Broncos cut bait with Flacco and went all-in on Lock.
Lock sought out the advice of Manning then, as the two had more than just the Bronco connection. Lock first crossed paths with the NFL's only five-time MVP at the Manning Passing Academy and the two maintained their acquaintance.
Before the pandemic hit, Manning reportedly provided Lock with some offseason pointers, from nutrition to taking care of his body, workout regimens, and even throwing-session tips with teammates. Then, the worst natural calamity of our time struck and the NFL locked down, canceling all offseason training programs.
At the 11th hour, the league and NFLPA slapped together a plan to actually play the 2020 season but it would come with some severe amendments. No preseason games (after no OTAs) and a very truncated training camp. Then... live bullets of Week 1.
For a second-year QB like Lock who was having to learn a brand-new offensive system without ever having spent time in the same room as the coordinator, it was near-cataclysmic. Then, Lock injured his throwing shoulder in Week 2, which caused him to miss a month and adding insult to the whole affair, he lost his No. 1 wideout when Courtland Sutton suffered an ACL tear in the same game vs. Pittsburgh after the QB had exited.
The rest is history. As the Broncos limped to a 5-11 finish, John Elway stepped down as GM and hired George Paton to succeed him, who opted to retain head coach Vic Fangio and his staff. Meanwhile, Lock approached Manning once again, this time with perhaps a bigger ask than a couple of phone calls and a trip to watch the Nuggets play.
Manning took Lock under his wing once again, only this time, the two got together to break down film. Considered to be the most cerebral QB of all-time, Manning's film study acumen was a lifeline for the floundering Lock. The two QBs spent "9-10 hours" together breaking down film over two separate sessions.
In between those study sessions, Paton opted to acquire Teddy Bridgewater via trade from Carolina, telegraphing to Lock and the world that the Broncos' starting QB position was up for grabs. Lock would have to sing for his supper.
With the Broncos kicking off OTAs on Monday, Manning opened up on the Lock subject, pointing to one specific factor as cause for optimism that the young QB can finally turn a corner entering his third year.
“I don’t make excuses or defend Drew and he’s been very accountable in his comments and certainly knows what he needs to do and has a plan to do it,” Manning told Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post. “But I will say the greatest benefit I had as a player was having the same offensive coordinator for my first 13 years. Tom Brady had the same offensive system for every year and Tampa last year pretty much got it to his system . . . It makes a big difference when you have continuity. In Drew’s second year, he was already on his second coordinator and then you add in the COVID offseason. That’s tough for any quarterback. I can tell that he was excited about getting into the facility, getting with Pat Shurmur and being on the same page because they didn’t get to that last year. They didn’t start meeting until August, which is insane.”
Insane, indeed. However, Broncos fans — after years of post-Super Bowl ineptitude — didn't want to hear it, especially with out-of-the-box QBs like Justin Herbert in L.A. tearing it up despite himself not getting in the same room with his coordinator until August.
By virtue of his production, Herbert proved that he is an outlier. Judging Lock based on Herbert's 2020 play is not only apples to oranges, it's unfair. After all, Lock got hurt amid all the other unique obstacles that threatened his Year 2 ascension.
However, with the benefit of a more traditional offseason and that coaching continuity, Lock has attacked his job with the single-minded ambition of a QB fighting for his professional life. Those habits and that work ethic, according to Manning, could be the harbinger of how the 2021 season ultimately takes shape for Lock.
“I believe that whatever you do in-season is all about what you got done in the offseason,” Manning told O'Halloran. “I like it when I hear quarterbacks are doing things on their own. People say you can’t take it home with you. That’s just not true for a quarterback. You’re supposed to be taking it home with you. You’re supposed to be thinking about it and having it on your mind. That’s what Drew is doing.”
Ever the politician, Manning made sure to separate himself from the Broncos' QB competition taking shape at Dove Valley. The Sheriff may have taken an interest in helping Lock but he likes Bridgewater too.
“Look, I pull for quarterbacks,” Manning said. “I also know Teddy Bridgewater — great guy and great addition to the Broncos. It sounds like it will be a good, healthy competition. Since I’ve retired, I’ve always tried to be somewhat of a resource for whoever the (Broncos’) quarterback is. There have been quite a few of them, unfortunately, so hopefully we can get a little more continuity there, which certainly helps everybody, I think.”
Continuity was the buzzword we kept hearing at Broncos HQ to end the 2020 campaign. Hopefully, by virtue of the Broncos showing some patience and temperance with regard to Shurmur and the offensive coaching staff, it'll allow Lock to truly benefit from that carryover and provide the team, finally, with some quarterback continuity.
Lock wants to light a 'fire' for the city of Denver and help Broncos fans rebound from the pandemic. In order to do that, he's got to first win the job. Next up, Lock will have to lead the Broncos back from the NFL doldrums to becoming a threat once again.
If the combined efforts of Shurmur and Broncos' QB Coach Mike Shula, with some added expertise of Manning, can't get Lock over the hump, perhaps no one will.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!