ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During a recent training camp practice when the Denver Broncos‘ defense was being seen — and heard — making plays all over the field, second-year quarterback Drew Lock showed off a little of his edge. Lock threw a dart up the right sideline to Courtland Sutton, over starting cornerback A.J. Bouye, and as Sutton tossed some verbal jabs at the defense, Lock ran up to the line of scrimmage pounding his hands together with “in your face” enthusiasm.
It’s that kind of “swag” that has Sutton and other teammates excited for Lock’s second season, but it’s something they would not have seen from the young quarterback last summer.
Lock arrived to camp a year ago having been told Joe Flacco was the starter moments after the Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2019 draft. Then Lock suffered a thumb injury to his throwing hand during the Broncos’ preseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers and spent half a season on injured reserve, largely unable to throw.
A young player can be a lot of things from the training room, but outspoken, hard-charging injured backup quarterback isn’t one of them. As former Broncos receiver Rod Smith consistently said near the end of his 12-year career, “you can’t lead from the training room.”
“I don’t care who you are, what you’ve done, you can talk, but there ain’t anybody in there listening, they’re out practicing, in meetings, getting ready to play,” Smith said with a laugh.
Lock learned that lesson last season. So he waited and he worked and he watched. More seen than heard, more reserved than even he thought he might be.
“I definitely feel like I had to hold myself back a little bit at the beginning of the season just … to feel everyone out, feel the situation out, even feel Joe [Flacco] out a little bit,” Lock said. “Slowly but surely, I got to come into myself and really show everyone that I was around who I was, especially when I finally became the guy and got to start playing. I think we all have seen my personality come out since I started playing.”
The Lock the Broncos have seen this offseason is closer to the quarterback and leader they believed they drafted. Broncos tight end Noah Fant said Lock was a key figure in more than a dozen workouts the players held on their own in recent weeks when the Broncos, like the rest of the NFL, had their offseason erased by COVID-19. His teammates have said Lock showed a grasp of the new playbook and kept things moving efficiently.
“I think that [those workouts] really helped Drew mature and get to know some of his new players,” running back Phillip Lindsay said.
Lock showed promise last season, going 4-1 as the starter in the final five games of 2019. The Broncos said he would continue in that role in 2020 and spent the offseason cocooning him in an offense with far more speed and big-play potential.
“Since he’s got his start, I’ve said that Drew’s got swag and y’all have seen it,” Sutton said. “He plays with a different type of swagger and we love to see it. It’s one of those things that you — when you’ve got that young energy around you, it feeds off. When it comes from your quarterback who everyone looks at as your leader, I think it brings a different juice, a different energy to everybody from not just the players but to the coaches as well.”
Peyton Manning, who has exchanged calls and texts with Lock this offseason, routinely said a big part of a quarterback’s job is to be prepared and stay prepared. It’s a lesson Lock seems to have taken to heart in an offseason unlike any other in the league’s history.
“I think he deserves the hype,” said guard Dalton Risner. “He played five games last year and proved that he was about it. I think he has a lot more to prove this year, and I know Drew is going to step up to the plate and do that. He’s worked extremely hard off the field this year during the offseason, and since he’s shown up, I’ve seen more of a leadership side from Drew. I’m extremely excited to see what he does.”
Broncos coach Vic Fangio has often served as the brakeman on the Lock hype train. Last season Fangio routinely offered a variety of low-key, wait-and-see answers to questions about the then-rookie, even though it was Fangio who was pushing the coaching staff behind the scenes to get Lock ready to play down the stretch.
Fangio joked again this offseason about overinflating expectations for Lock because “you all seem like you want to pump their tires,” even as he praised Lock’s work in the offseason.
“He’s picked up right where he left off last year,” Fangio said in recent weeks. “Drew came in here last year and everything was tough and new and not easy for him. … We eventually got him in there, and he improved on a weekly basis. We won some games, which is always good. He’s just continued that upward trend throughout the offseason. I think he’s done a great job learning the new offense. … He’s ready to go.”
Lock often said in training camp last year — before his injury kept him off the field for two months — one of the items he wrestled with was how to lead an offense with players who were older and far more experienced as a backup.
In college, even as a freshman starter, a quarterback would still be within three years or so of his oldest teammates and they had all played roughly the same amount of time. His teammates, especially those who took part in the throwing sessions earlier this summer, say he has shown a far greater comfort level in directing the on-field traffic and making certain everyone stays engaged, even older players.
“What I learned when I got here is that once you gain the respect of the older guys and the heads of the organization here — that should be your first ultimate goal to gain the respect of the guys around you,” Lock said. “For me to be able to feel like what I did last year and the comments from everyone this offseason and just being able to walk into the locker room and feel like I have the respect of everybody, that is 100% the one goal that I set for that first year, just gaining respect from this team. Now that I have that, there’s no worries about personalities making relationships because we all know who I am.
“I know everybody on this team, I know how they act, I know who they are as a person. Now it’s time for ball to where if I need to jump someone, I’m not the rookie anymore yelling at a third-, fourth-year guy. It’s ‘That’s Drew yelling at us. That’s Drew getting on us.’ It’s a whole different mentality behind having a second-year quarterback rather than a rookie quarterback.”
Lock is clearly having more fun as QB1 than back when he was sitting on the bench. And he has license to take control.
And that’s what the Broncos have wanted since Manning retired after the 2015 season — a quarterback to assert himself. They wanted Paxton Lynch to do it, they wanted Trevor Siemian to do it, as well as Case Keenum and even Flacco.
But for myriad reasons, including job security, it never happened. That’s at least part of the reason the Broncos were so public in January about the plan for Lock.
“Drew had a good offseason,” linebacker Bradley Chubb said. “Just seeing the things he was doing and seeing him in the building now, he looks good and he looks healthy and ready to go. Then when you add those weapons around him with the weapons we already had here, I’m just excited to that whole offense gel. … It’s going to be fun to see Drew come into his own and take over this team like he needs to.”