The Broncos’ projected quarterback-and-tight end, pass-and-catch duo of the future is down-and-out in the present.
Drew Lock sprained his thumb, and Noah Fant sprained his ankle Monday.
Lock’s attempt to become the Broncos’ backup will be impeded by up to six weeks, according to a specialist who has worked as a professional team doctor and requested anonymity. Fant is considered “day-to-day.’’ Preseason preparation in games is over for two of the Broncos’ top three draft choices.
Fant, the team’s first-round pick (20th overall), limped off the field in the first quarter after landing awkwardly on his leg while being tackled on his second reception. Early in the third quarter, Lock, drafted 42nd in the second round, landed on his thumb while being drilled on a scramble. He didn’t return on the next series, replaced by Kevin Hogan, who will be the No. 2 quarterback when the Broncos play the Raiders on Sept. 9 — unless the Broncos sign another veteran. Brock Osweiler?
Lock had passed Hogan as Joe Flacco’s primarily backup.
The Broncos initially said the two injuries were “mild in nature,’’ but the day-after report was that Lock’s right thumb (on his throwing hand) had been severely sprained. Coach Vic Fangio said Monday night Fant would be monitored for a couple of days. The original announcement stated Fant suffered a “foot’’ injury, but he actually mildly sprained the right ankle. The Broncos won’t risk him in the Saturday game against the Rams, and nobody of significance will participate in the exhibition finale vs. the Cardinals.
Lock had been playing somewhat solidly, but not spectacularly, in the first three games, completing 31 of 51 passes (60.8 percent) for 254 yards, but only 5 yards per throw, and one touchdown and one interception. Sometimes uncertain, Lock has been sacked six times. He still looked more comfortable in the shotgun than under center.
Fant has caught five passes for 28 yards, including a long of 11 yards. Nothing special.
Oddly enough, when Fangio was the coordinator in Chicago in 2016 under former Broncos coach John Fox, the Bears lost Jay Cutler, the ex-Broncos quarterback, for several weeks with a right thumb injury. Cutler hurt the thumb again later in the season.
Hogan appeared in eight games in 2016-17 with the Browns, but started just one (a defeat). In Cleveland he managed four touchdowns with seven interceptions. His passing numbers in three exhibitions are dismal — 13 of 30 (43.4 percent) for 104 yards and one interception without a touchdown. He did score the Broncos’ only touchdown Monday with a meandering 24-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos obviously are trying to hide Brett Rypien, who has barely played in three games. They hope he will clear waivers and join their practice squad. But he’ll probably have to play against Arizona.
Meanwhile, the Hex of The Tight Ends persists. The Broncos have drafted four Big Ten tight ends in the past five drafts. Jeff Heuerman (Ohio State), selected third in 2016, tore an ACL in his first offseason workout with the Broncos and didn’t play as a rookie. Jake Butt, who dropped to the fifth round in 2017 because he had torn an ACL in the Orange Bowl with Michigan, was out his entire first season. He started the first three games in ‘18 before tearing an ACL again and missing the rest of the year. Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli, chosen in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, didn’t play at all last season because of a sports hernia.
Heuerman hasn’t played yet as a result of a shoulder injury. Butt also hasn’t played and rarely practiced after a setback in recovery.
Austin Fort, an undrafted free agent from Wyoming who seemed destined for the practice squad, tore his ACL in Seattle and is gone until 2020.
Bug Howard, who has been cut by four NFL teams and played in the AAF, also is on the roster along with Moral Stephens, an undrafted free agent who signed with the Broncos after being released by the Bills.
The tight ends’ cumulative NFL totals are 57 receptions for 649 yards and four touchdowns.
The Broncos’ losses of young players are considerably worse than the losses to the Seahawks and the 49ers.