ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Drew's Clues puzzle is not solved. But all the pieces are in place.
All signs point toward Drew Lock making his debut Sunday against the Chargers, which would make him the Broncos' seventh starting quarterback since Peyton Manning retired following the Super Bowl 50 victory. Coach Vic Fangio made no official announcement after Friday's practice, the third straight with Lock taking the bulk of the first-team reps. He is expected to tell the team on Saturday. But all sources I have talked to believe Lock will get the nod.
"I just wanted a chance to go in and look at the tape more extensively," Fangio said.
General manager John Elway coined Lock as the future after drafting him in the second round last spring, with the idea it would likely be next season as he served as an apprentice under veteran Joe Flacco. Nothing, however, has gone as scripted for the position specifically or the offense in general. The Broncos rank 29th in points per game (15.2) and passing yardage (192.3) and 30th in third-down conversion percentage.
Flacco remains out for the year with a bulging disc in his neck and has likely taken his last snap for the Broncos. Brandon Allen filled in gamely, winning his debut against Cleveland, but bottoming out over the past six quarters by completing 20 of 47 passes while leading the offense to a pair of field goals. Lock would step into this mess with brimming confidence, elite arm talent, and if fans are being realistic, mild expectations.
Lock has practiced nine times since spraining his right thumb on Aug. 19 in a preseason game against San Francisco. With the Broncos incapable of a winning record, it's time for the evaluation to begin, time to find out if Lock is the answer or if the solution lies in the draft or with a veteran like Teddy Bridgewater or Ryan Tannehill.
Lock admitted to Denver7 that he wasn't ready two weeks ago. He required practice reps. But after his third week of practice, he has adjusted to the speed of the game and the offense.
"I feel super comfortable," said a Lock, a four-year starter in both high school and college. "I’m just going to go out and be myself. Just be what I’ve been to get me to this point. If that means making some plays where people might think I’m doing too much, then so be it. That’s just who I am as a quarterback. That’s just what I’m going to stick to. I’m going to stick to my guns and stick to who I think I am as a ‘Q.'"
Lock is a work in progress. Teammates are intrigued by his athleticism and attitude. All-Pro Von Miller said Lock made the best throw he's ever seen in practice two weeks ago, prompting him to tell Lock in the locker room, "When you get famous, take me with you." Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. appreciates Lock's demeanor, and receiver Tim Patrick said, "Drew is going to be a baller." Teammates said Friday Lock will be ready based on what they've seen this week.
As the offense did with Allen, players promised to rally around Lock. The keys for the former Missouri star remain simple. Know that it will be messy, so stay patient and composed. Translation: when a mistake comes -- and it will -- don't try to make up for it by forcing a pass that isn't there. Sacks are OK if it means limiting turnovers and keeping the game close.
Lock carved out a reputation for taking chances in college when his team was often the underdog in the SEC. It led to spectacular completions, but also a chunk of interceptions with flawed footwork. The Broncos can help Lock by running fewer five-and-seven-step drops and more quick slants and short passes out of the shotgun. The Broncos' offense has struggled dramatically in recent weeks. The Broncos have not scored a touchdown since the first half against the Vikings. And they haven't exceeded 25 points since last October.
Now, Lock is in line to get his chance to revive an offense, and if he has his way, a franchise.
"I want to try and build this into something special for sure," Lock said earlier in the week. "I want to be able to give the confidence every single week to my teammates and to the people upstairs that if we ride into this in the offseason after these however many games it takes... then we’re going to have an awesome offseason coming into next season. Hopefully I end up being here for a long time.”
Von Miller (right knee) and Alexander Johnson (shoulder) returned to practice on Friday, leaving them in position to play against the Chargers. ... If right tackle Ja'Wuan James plays, he will start. That is not expected which means Garett Bolles' job at left tackle is safe for another week. ... The Broncos enter Sunday ranked in the top 10 in five defensive categories, including points per game (19.2, 9th) and red zone percentage (40 percent, 2nd). ... Isaac Yiadom will start at corner this week opposite of Chris Harris Jr.