ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Jump shots replaced hot routes, the quarterback derby gave way to a home run derby and the film room was eschewed for a dunk tank.
As he did in 2019, Broncos coach Vic Fangio rewarded his players, scratching the final day of mandatory minicamp practice in favor of a field day. There was a three-point contest — Drew Lock, who had Division I hoops offers, appeared on Broncos twitter scalding the twine. Offensive linemen with bats smashed balls into the berm, and some unfortunate folks — or were they in this record heat? — plunged into water.
I am not outraged by this. Not angry. Not even aggravated. This was pre-determined earlier in the week based on the players' solid work throughout OTAs, and Fangio told the team Thursday morning. Fangio chose a bonding activity over a roughly 60 minute practice. This humanizes Fangio and provides players levity as they scatter to parts unknown until training camp begins on July 27.
"Hell yes [it was good to get a Field Day]," Broncos left guard Dalton Risner told Denver7. "We made a ton of headway this offseason. All phases. I am damn proud."
Fangio saw enough to reward the players. In the media, we don't see nearly as much but enough to provide insights after 10 OTA practices and a pair of minicamp workouts.
My Denver7 observations:
To QB or not QB?
Quarterback uncertainty remains as Teddy "Two Gloves" Bridgewater and Drew "One Sleeve" Lock battle for the starting job. Competition can bring out the best in players. It's rarely a positive at this position, though, if it bleeds deep into training camp. What have I learned? In grading five practices where we had access, I gave Bridgewater three wins, Lock one and labeled one day a push.
Steady Teddy. That's who Bridgewater is. He focuses on accuracy and ball security. His ceiling remains lower than Lock, but his floor is higher. While Bridgewater does not move the needle, he might move the Broncos in the standings. They desperately need a fast start — Fangio is 0-7 in September — and an offense that protects the football paired with an opportunistic defense could facilitate victories against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets.
It is telling that the Broncos view this is an open competition. Lock receives no points for starting in the system last year. And that's understandable after he tied for the league lead in interceptions (15 in 12-plus games) and last in completion percentage. Lock reacted to his failure with purpose. He changed his diet, workouts and film study. It has paid dividends. He is improving — it was on full bloom Tuesday — but he must demonstrate consistency and avoid big pratfalls — like the pick six he threw Wednesday — to win the job.
And, of course, wandering eyes will shift to Green Bay as there appears no thawing in the frosty relationship between reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and Packers management. Will they trade him? And if so, when? Before camp? During? The first week of September? The Broncos must remain nimble and ready if Rodgers becomes available.
Von is on comeback trail
The reality exists that this could be Von Miller's final season in Denver. He enters the last year of his contract, is coming off a lost season due to injury and is 32. However, he appears driven to reestablish his greatness.
He was a leader in drills, and showed his classic burst. The idea of Miller posting 10 sacks remains realistic when looking at the careers of DeMarcus Ware, Kevin Greene, Michael Strahan and Jason Taylor, among others.
For the Broncos to end their five-year playoff skid, their stars must illuminate the franchise's universe. It starts with Von.
Secondary receives passing grade
The team's biggest strength is the secondary. No debate. Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Bryce Callahan and Pat Surtain provide four solid corners and Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson rank among the league's best safety tandem. The Broncos produced 16 takeaways last season. Anything less than 23 takeaways with 15 interceptions this season will be a huge disappointment.
Melvin Gordon wants a fresh start after a clunky first season in Denver. He showed up for mandatory minicamp and looked strong but lighter, showing more explosiveness than in camp last summer. Gordon is playing for a contract here or somewhere else. There's no reason he can't rush for 900 yards and catch 50 passes with 10 touchdowns. That would create a crease for rookie Javonte Williams to have a role that grows as the season progresses.
However, Gordon should be leaned on early and in the passing game. The biggest key? Eliminating fumbles. Gordon has 18 since 2014, second most in the NFL.
Right tackle questions
The Broncos right tackle position remains a carousel of frustration. I view Bobby Massie as the top candidate to start. But he missed the last few weeks with a pectoral injury.
Cam Fleming looks like a backup and might not be necessary if Calvin Anderson continues to develop.
Massie making 13-15 starts would go a long way in creating much-needed continuity.
Defense lacks depth
For NFL teams success hinges on health. The Broncos are even more vulnerable at outside linebacker and the defensive line. After Malik Reed, there is no obvious help for Miller and Chubb. And Chubb might be limited early in camp after the removal of ankle bone spurs several weeks ago.
Rookie Jonathon Cooper is an intriguing prospect — high energy, relentless effort — but only began practicing this week after undergoing a heart procedure.
The defensive line needs Mike Purcell (foot) back and clogging the middle. Shelby Harris and Dre'Mont Jones are strong contributors — Jones could reach 10 sacks this season — but second-year pro McTelvin "Sosa" Agim must step up to fortify this unit.
Tide is rolling
The Broncos' most impressive players in OTAs and minicamp? It would be hard to go wrong with former Alabama teammates Jerry Jeudy and Pat Surtain II. Jeudy, embarrassed by his drops as a rookie, went to work, improving his fundamentals and focus. I didn't see him drop a pass in five practices.
Surtain is a unique blend of length, speed and smarts. I will not be surprised if he leads the Broncos' cornerbacks in snaps this season.
The Broncos are approaching the 85% threshold of vaccinated players after a recent push. Coach Fangio and his staff have placed emphasis on educating players to help them make an informed decision. They have also provided several vaccination opportunities. There are several incentives for highly vaccinated teams relating to meetings, workouts and travel. ...
The Broncos signed receivers Amara Darboh and De’Mornay Pierson-El to challenge for reserve roles on special teams. The club waived punter Max Duffy and designated outside linebacker Natrez Patrick as waived/injured in corresponding transactions to make room on the 90-man roster.