DENVER — There is no blueprint to follow, no history to lean on. The Broncos aim to end a four-year playoff drought while starting the most abnormal training camp in league history.
There will be no preseason games. Only 14 padded practices are permitted. There are fewer reps to spread across the depth chart. There will be no fans at training camp. All the measures were taken to try to start and complete an NFL season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The challenge is daunting, especially in light of the Major League Baseball halting the season of the Miami Marlins because of 17 positive tests.
"I think that everybody realizes in their day-to-day life how different it is. I think the ultimate thing is that we have to deal with it and accept it, and accept that's the way it's going to be. As a football team we have to accept that times are different," general manager John Elway said Tuesday.
"We are going to live by different rules and how we go about our daily business is going to change. How we handle that as an organization and as a football team is going to determine in a lot of ways how much success we have. We need guys to stay healthy. This is not something that's going to go away in a few weeks or a few months. We have to approach this like we are going to follow the protocol for six, seven months."
The daily schedule reflects the emphasize on safety. Players will be limited to small groups in conditioning and lifting sessions, and even in the cafeteria. That part has admittedly caused coach Vic Fangio "a couple of headaches." Navigating the first few weeks remains critical leading into the practices that will determine roughly five-to-seven roster spots and three-to-four starting jobs.
"When it comes to practice, I think practice will be fairly normal. When we're on the field, we're playing football. Period," said Fangio, who indicated that a couple of practices could be held at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium. "When we're off the field is where we're going the extra mile. On the field, I don't think you'll see a whole lot of difference."
There are practical issues facing a team hoping for its offense to bloom after years of withering like a weed in concrete. The Broncos boast talent not seen since the Super Bowl 50 run, with quarterback Drew Lock joined by future All-Pro receiver Courtland Sutton, rookie wideout Jerry Jeudy, tight end Noah Fant and former Pro Bowl running backs Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay.
However, there were no OTAs. Lock took charge and organized practices for weeks around the metro area. Will that microwave the development? Elway is taking a realistic approach to camp and early in the season.
"I know we spent a lot of time on Zoom meetings on the offensive side. But there's nothing like being on the practice field so it's going to be a slow build," Elway said. "And the expectations of Drew — he did play well for five games — but he didn't have the offseason this year. For young players that's very important. I know he did spend a lot of time throwing to the receivers and getting their timing down. We are very, very young on the offensive side. I was hoping for two preseason games because we are so young on that side. We are going to have to deal with it. Today's world is about adjusting."
It creates a juxtaposition. Patience is required, but not necessarily available. The Broncos can ill-afford another 0-3 start, which cost them a postseason berth last season. Early on, they will look to "lean on the defense." The Broncos held eight of their final 20 opponents last season to 20 points or less. With a healthy Bradley Chubb — "the knee feels good. I am ready to go," he told Denver7 on Monday — and a motivated Von Miller, the Broncos are looking for more sacks and takeaways.
"Bradley isn't a 100 percent, but it's darn close. We will monitor him, but we feel good with where he's at," Fangio said. "With Von, we have been in contact this offseason. He has added weight. I think he has a hunger to his game and to his attitude that I don’t think he’s had in the last few years."
Fangio indicated that Garett Bolles had a strong offseason -- "the arrow is pointing up, but it's early July, so we'll see." He is competing for the left tackle spot with Elijah Wilkinson, who had foot surgery several weeks ago. Part of the challenge this summer is for long shot players to stick out. The Broncos have a history of unearthing undrafted gems. But that, Elway, admitted will be much tougher this summer without extra practices and exhibition games.
Yet, everyone remains on the same playing field. The teams that are adaptable will have an edge in this most unusual season.
"We can’t (complain) about it," Elway said. "This isn’t going away in a month. ... The bottom line is that we've gotta win."
CEO Joe Ellis remains optimistic that the NFL will start and go on as planned. But it will require discipline and following protocols. "That is the hope (that they play a 16-game season). But we know hope is not a strategy. We are not in a bubble, but we have to behave like we are (all 250 employees, not just players and coaches). It’s on everybody. But we will be prepared as anyone. I have faith in our guys. The players have a lot of concerns and questions, and I respect that and that they will play by the rules to stay safe." ... Ellis indicated that there's been no decision on if fans will be allowed at home games or when that might happen. .... Ellis was asked about his stance if players choose to kneel for the anthem. "Everyone's got a right to do as they please, express themselves as they will and we're going to respect that as an organization." ... Coach Vic Fangio has lost 30 pounds and feels good. “But it does tell you how fat I was," Fangio said.