ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos open the NFL's 100th season with the Hall of Fame game Thursday in Canton, Ohio. Fake games can give real impressions. And this is a time for the quarterbacks to begin making a statement. For Kevin Hogan, he is auditioning for the Broncos and others. For rookie Drew Lock, it represents the first step in what the organization hopes is a long career in orange and blue.
Hogan will start against the Falcons. He finds himself in a tough spot. He is second string, but it's hard to see an avenue for him making the team. The Broncos are unlikely to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, and they would prefer to stash rookie Brett Rypien on the practice squad. So if Lock makes progress and stays healthy, the second-round pick figures to be the backup on Sept. 9. A lot can transpire between now and then, leaving Hogan to narrow his line of sight.
"I am realistic, and everyone is self-aware," Hogan said after Tuesday's light workout. "At the same time, you have to control what you can control. I believe if I reach my potential, I will be somewhere. I would love to be here. I love the coaching staff, I love the quarterback room and I love being a Bronco."
For Lock, the first game represents lyrics in a song. Get a verse right, move onto the next. The Broncos, without saying it, have learned from the past with failed first-rounder Paxton Lynch. Having a plan for Lock's development is critical. Microwaving the process doesn't always work, and can stunt the growth of a young player. But facing a fresh face is welcomed after nearly two weeks of training camp.
"It's just really exciting playing someone else who doesn't have a Broncos helmet on," Lock said. "We all really want to see each other succeed. So I am excited about getting the ball in guys' hands and letting them go to work a little bit."
Hogan will be surrounded by a few starters. Center Connor McGovern, left guard Dalton Risner and left tackle Garett Bolles will all start. McGovern could use additional reps to develop consistency with his shotgun snaps, Risner is a rookie requiring snaps and Bolles is looking to build off a solid training camp as Elijah Wilkinson pushes for time. Fangio said Tuesday Bolles is "hands down" the starter and that "someone's got to knock him out kind of like a heavyweight champ. He's the incumbent."
For Fangio, it represents a time to break out the beakers and experiment. And that starts with where he stands. After nearly three decades coaching from the booth, he will be on the sideline.
"When we are on defense, I am going to try and get the end zone view of it," said Fangio, who will be joined by defensive coordinator Ed Donatell on the sidelines while offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello will work from upstairs. "I won't be on the line of scrimmage starting off. I'm going to try and be back a little ways, so at least I have somewhat of a wider view," he said.
The Broncos have an unusual practice. Their next full practice is not until Sunday. They will have meetings Saturday and lift. It's part of the pacing in a long preseason as the Broncos integrate new systems while also remaining mindful of keeping veterans fresh for the regular season. ... Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello remains pleased at the progress of his quarterbacks. As it relates to Lock specifically, he is cognizant that the rookie is on a journey. "There are no shortcuts to playing quarterback in the NFL." ... Those who will not play in the Hall of Fame game because of injuries or prescribed rest: right guard Ron Leary (Achilles), right tackle Ja'Wuan James (leg), tight end Jake Butt (knee), who hasn't practiced since July 20, tight end Bug Howard (ankle), cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot) and receiver DaeSean Hamilton (hamstring). ... Fangio on touring the Hall of Fame and seeing line coach Mike Munchak's bust. "I am sure Munch will be there changing a fee to take a picture with the guys. It'll be good. I am going to try and get a picture with Mike next to it. It will be cool."