DENVER — Mmmm. What's that smell?
Is that ... Broncos optimism in the air?
Ever since John Elway, Matt Russell and the front office drafted "a bunch of young, extremely, extremely talented players," in the words of quarterback Drew Lock, the frowns that shadowed a bummer season have been flipped upside down. Without knowing when the season will start, or even if fans will be there due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Broncos are downright giddy over their immediate future.
“Whenever (the experts) decide it’s OK to play,” Lock said, "I'll be ready to play."
The Broncos might be the most confident 7-9 team in NFL history. And it’s all changed because of Lock, whose belief in self has rubbed off on his colleagues. His teammates are all-in on Lock, evidenced by veteran safety Kareem Jackson declaring, "He has the capability to be a big-time leader for us." Elway’s all-in on Lock, shown in the Broncos shaping most of an entire draft class around the young quarterback.
Lock is only 23 with a 4-1 record as a starter. And the Broncos are ga-ga over Drew.
First-round pick, wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. Second-round pick, wide receiver A.J. Hamler. Fourth-round pick, former Missouri teammate tight end Albert Okwuegbunam.
“He is a massive human being,” Lock said of Albert “O,” who goes a whopping 6-foot-5, 258 pounds. “When you guys finally get to see him in person you’ll get to see that.”
Should I mention the $26 million guaranteed to free-agent offensive lineman Graham Glasgow?
“It means a lot to me to see that happen. It puts a little extra confidence on my back,” Lock said Tuesday on a Zoom call with local media. “At the same time those expectations do rise when you have so many weapons around you.”
About that pressure. It's a biggie. Being Colorado’s quarterback is no easy gig. Just ask Jay, Kyle, Tim, Brock, Paxton or Trevor.
Is Drew ready for those expectations?
“I like to put pressure on myself in general,” said Lock, who’s been living with his folks in their hometown of Lee’s Summit, Mo. “I think the pressure I put on myself always outweighs the pressure that comes from media or even friends or family.”
Who knows if Lock, whose passer rating last season would have placed him directly between Case Keenum and Phillip Rivers, possesses the talent to lead a franchise? Nobody does. Yet.
But the last quarterback around these hills to earn this kind of help from the front office was Peyton Manning. Back then it was adding the likes of Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders to make sure Manning never longed for a playmaker. These days it’s adding Jeudy, Hamler and running back Melvin Gordon to the offense.
Paxton Lynch must be playing XBox and wondering, Heck, dude, must be nice.
Only one man figures to benefit from the influx of talent on offense more than Lock. That’s wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who battled with double-team after double-team down the stretch: “I think we’ll be able to (throw) the ball downfield more than what we did last year,” Lock said.
To prepare for the season while detached from the team, Lock is training under the supervision of Austin Pace, his trainer in the Kansas City area since his freshman year of high school. Pace owns a private gym where Lock can work, and his dad, Andy Lock, recites plays from the new playbook during homework sessions.
“I had to teach him some rhythm on how to call plays because it was pretty choppy at first,” Lock said. “But I think we got it down to an art now.”
The Broncos have taken to Zoom calls to initiate their offseason regimen. For Lock, that means daily conversations with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula.
“Picking this (playbook) up has happened about 10 times as quick as I did the last time,” Lock said.
OK, so I’m a little worried about the rookies — not to mention the higher education coming out of the University of Alabama and Penn State. Jeudy and Hamler gave their personal expectations of Colorado on the NFL Network.
“They say we can live in an apartment or a cabin,” Hamler said.
“I ain’t livin’ in no cabin,” Jeudy said.
“They’re talkin’ about bears walking in the crib and everything,” Hamler said.
Close, but don’t forget the part where we cook on Coleman stoves and communicate through smoke signals. While the rooks are still warming up to life way out here in the wild, wild West, the Broncos are going all-in on Lock.
The orange-and-blue are now the Drew Crew.
They believe in No. 3.