ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Brandon Allen sat at his locker after the Browns game and allowed himself a smile. He waited four years to play in the NFL, bouncing between backup jobs and the waiver wire, and all he did was receive the game ball in a victory.
It was a feel-good moment in a disappointing season. As the starter, Allen returns to practice this week with a different set of circumstances. He faces the Vikings, who are undefeated at home and a 10-point favorite over Denver. And the specter of Drew Lock hangs over the franchise. Lock will begin practicing Tuesday -- much to the delight of many Broncos fans -- creating a potential path to the starting lineup in early December.
So what's next for Allen and Lock? To be determined.
If Allen posts victories in the next two games at Minnesota and Buffalo, he keeps the job. The reality is until the Broncos reach eight losses, they will view themselves as a contender. As such, coach Vic Fangio wants to win games, not focus on the development of a young quarterback. However, if the Broncos hit eight losses, it makes sense to play Lock at some point in early December, allowing for a read on the rookie before entering the offseason and preparing for the draft.
Fangio discussed the situation Monday.
"Our whole focus is to try to get to 4-6, as bad as that sounds. We’re trying to win the game we play this week. Whether that includes or doesn’t include Drew down the road remains to be seen," Fangio said. "We are going to try and get Drew as many reps as we can, and some of that will be scout team. You gotta remember this guy hasn't been in a huddle since middle August."
Will Lock be the backup this week? And is their a blueprint to follow?
"It's not mapped out because it is going to be determine by how he looks and what we think," Fangio said. "We need to see good quarterback play (from Lock). That he belongs."
Based on the coach's explanation, I attempt to connect the dots. If the Broncos go 1-1 over the next two weeks, Allen keeps the job. Again, the magic number for a pocket change is likely eight losses. If Denver drops both games, it increases the likelihood Lock starts, if his practice sessions go well over the next few weeks.
For now, Allen prepares for his first road challenge, and Lock begins logging reps, which could earn him the backup job this week or at Buffalo. Again, there's no guarantee he comes off the injured reserve this week. The Broncos have 21 days to make that decision.
Allen turned in an eye-opening debut, but must prove it was not an aberration. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. However, 75 yards came on a short pass to Noah Fant that featured three broken tackles as he galloped into the end zone. No matter the prism from which you view this team, the Broncos need better offensively, sitting at 16.6 points per game, 10 fewer than the Vikings.
"Well, we need to score more points. Was that earth-shattering for you?" Fangio said.
As Fangio explained to me last week, the Broncos could be better than 3-6, especially when looking at their point-differential (170 allowed, 149 scored), but they could not be worse. They have been walked off three times by the Bears, Jaguars and Colts. And this might be their toughest game this season. The Vikings are rolling offensively, with special offensive assistant Gary Kubiak helping with the game plan. As ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said of Kubiak today, "Front side wins games. Backside blocking wins championships." The Vikings are a problem on the ground. They rank third in yards per game (153) and carries (33). Dalvin Cook, a former Florida State star, has delivered a rushing touchdown in eight of 10 games.
There was a time before Fangio was hired that it looked like Kubiak might become his offensive coordinator. It never materialized, in part, because of the assistants he wanted to hire like former Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
"We said we would talk and that was the extent of it at the time (on Kubiak possibly becoming the OC in January)," Fangio said. "He’s doing a hell of a job up there in Minnesota.”
The ability to run has opened play action and bootlegs for Kirk Cousins. Ridiculed early in the season, Cousins boasts an impressive resume over the last six games, posting 15 touchdowns and one pick. The Broncos had their eye on Cousins as a free agent two years ago, but the Vikings signed him to a three-year deal for a staggering $84 million guaranteed.
Bryce Callahan, who has yet to appear in a game this season after re-injuring his foot in July, will practice on Tuesday. The cornerback was a prized free agent acquisition, signing a three-year, $21-million deal with $10 million guaranteed. He starred in Chicago for Fangio last season, but has not been able to shake the foot issue that ended last season prematurely. The Broncos want to see where Callahan's health is after trying different treatments and seeing a specialist.
There remains no guarantee he will play this season.
The Broncos are getting healthier. Safety Will Parks (thumb) will return to practice this week along with defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker (shoulder). Walker told Denver7 he injured his shoulder in practice before the Browns game. He believes he will be ready against the Vikings to face Cook, his former college teammate. ... It remains unsure if right tackle Ja'Wuan James will practice and play this week after re-injuring the MCL in his left knee against the Colts. He has only played 32 snaps this season. ... Receiver Tim Patrick continues to practice and could play against the Vikings. ... Cook leads the NFL with 991 rushing yards.