ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On Monday, the quarterback competition between Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock began. The Broncos sheepishly boast 10 starters since Peyton Manning retired, which coincides with zero playoff berths and four straight losing seasons for the first time since 1963-72.
In reality, the race for this job started months ago in basements, on dimly lit phone screens and on will-these-ever-end Zoom calls.
For Lock, it all caught up with him this offseason -- the enormity of playing quarterback for the Broncos and the reality of keeping his starting job. Lock turned inward, analyzing his strengths, but more importantly his faults, then turning to lonely calisthenics to spur improvement. He talked with Hall of Famer Manning about the nuances of the game, how to read defenses, how to tweak his footwork, admitting, "I will be forever grateful for the time he spent with me. It is really nice to have him in my corner."
Lock adopted a new routine after tying for the league-lead in interceptions (16) and posted the worst completion percentage (57.3). He threw in the morning, returned home for film and footwork in his basement, attended Zooms, passed again and worked out. It was Groundhog Day in a good way. It has left Lock with laser focus on getting better, not worried about Aaron Rodgers (you know the rumor that won't go away).
"Regardless of what happened, if I stayed, if I left or if I was to be the guy, my mindset didn't change," said Lock, who is 8-10 in his career with 23 touchdowns and 18 picks. "I want this team to be good. I want to be good. I want to help this team get back to the playoffs. It was a rough year because of COVID. I put it all into this offseason plan to put a little fire back into this city and this team."
While Lock, 24, lost interest in social media over the past five months -- perfect timing given the trade speculation surrounding Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson and Rodgers -- he has not lost his edge or the support of his teammates. They appreciate his swagger, confidence and work ethic. It's about proving it.
"I can't wait to go back," Lock said, "and read everything wrong written about me."
Bridgewater, 28, remains diplomatic and opportunistic. He researched the Broncos for several weeks before the trade. Once it became obvious he was one-and-done in Carolina -- he refused to talk negatively about the Panthers on Monday -- Bridgewater started eyeing landing spots. The Broncos' history of winning and the city of Denver attracted him.
Bridgewater practiced for the first time with the Broncos on Monday, showing off his two gloves -- they were orange in case you were wondering -- and his accuracy. I asked him about the QB depth chart fight, which honestly doesn't begin, conceded coach Fangio, until 11-on-11 drills later this month and in earnest in training camp.
Bridgewater acknowledged that nothing gets resolved in gym shorts. Or gained from fretting about a possible trade for Rodgers, the league's reigning MVP.
"Honestly, man, i just keep my head down and control what I control. These days are an opportunity for me to get better as a teammate and a person. This is a business. I understand the nature of it," said Bridgewater, who is 26-23 in his career with 54 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions. "Everyday I wake up, I consider I’m competing for my job. My mindset is competition."
Fangio continues to relay the message that Lock and Bridgewater -- or is it Bridgewater and Lock? -- will split the reps. The reality is that few teams win with drawn-out QB battles. It can divide the locker room, even if privately, and lead to the starter lacking practice time in preparation for the season.
The Broncos are in a better position with Lock and Bridgewater than they were a year ago. Both have won games, and could serve as a safety net or a reliever if the starter falters. Radical improvement, though, is needed. Along with clarity. And that remains months away in this QB or not QB derby.
"I hope we find one soon,” said anchor left tackle Garett Bolles, while offering support of Lock and Bridgewater. "We have so many deadly players on offense, all we have to do is get the ball in their hands. If we do that, the NFL better watch out.”
Left guard Dalton Risner missed Monday's practice after contracting COVID-19 in between his vaccination shots. "I am going on Day 7. I will be back soon, don't worry," Risner told Denver7. "Don't let anyone think I am not there by choice. I am feeling great." ...
Outisde linebacker Bradley Chubb will not practice until training camp after having bone spurs removed from an ankle that began acting up this offseason. There was some concern, Fangio admitted, that Chubb would be sidelined until mid August. But the coach said Monday he believes the Pro Bowler will be ready for training camp. ...
Roughly only nine players did not attend OTAs as the Broncos decision to boycott training camp is no longer a thing. The NFLPA advised players to stay away in April, first citing COVID concerns, then conceding the move was designed to shorten the offseason workouts with the addition of a 17th game. Among those not in attendance by choice were veteran running back Melvin Gordon -- he prefers to work out on his own -- and cornerback Kyle Fuller. Gordon is expected to attend the mandatory minicamp next month.