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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -37 days ago, Denver Broncos players signed up for training camp, and first-year general manager George Paton sat down in a chair to discuss what he hoped would happen in the coming weeks and months.
“I feel we are on the right track,” Paton said then, “but [we] have a long way to go. “
The Broncos have since made decisions, traded and talked it all over again – over and over again – and the list, mostly in place, reflects some answers to some of the biggest questions they had when July ended.
The biggest question about whether they can end their playoff drought comes first in the holidays.
This is how they have answered their most urgent questions:
Who starts on QB?
Teddy Bridgewater won the starting quarterback job by checking all the boxes. He was consistently more efficient than Drew Lock in the pre-snap work at the scimmage line, led to the Broncos scoring drives in all but one possession he played in the preseason, was not fired and had no turnover, whether it was first- or second-team offense around him.
If the Broncos get the level of the game from Bridgewater, he showed in his five starts with New Orleans in 2019 (nine touchdowns in five games) or in the 10 games before he suffered a knee injury last year in Carolina (13 touchdowns in 10 games with none Christian McCaffrey in seven of them) the Broncos can sit in the playoff conversation.
Are they right in RT?
Bobby Massie is the next guy with a chance to do something no one has done since Orlando Franklin in 2012 – start every game with the right tackle. Massie is in his 10th season with 110 starts on his roster.
Alone since 2016, the Broncos have seen Donald Stephenson, Ty Sambrailo, Allen Barbre, Cyrus Kouandjio, Menelik Watson, Jared Veldheer, Elijah Wilkinson, Ja’Wuan James, Jake Rodgers, Demar Dotson and Calvin Anderson have at least one start with the right tackle.
The Broncos have spent money, draft picks, time and lots of aspirin without consistently producing a solution. This time, Paton signed both Massie and Cameron Fleming in free agency and still had Anderson on the roster.
Does D’en get an A?
Nothing is shrinking in the autumn sun as an optimist in the pre-season. But a look at the Broncos’ defensive depth map shows high-end players in multiple positions, backups that can contribute, and a secondary that is well-stocked to have a potential answer for most personal groups it faces.
And Von Miller and Bradley Chubb’s tempting potential together is something that has not happened since Week 4 of the 2019 season. They have played 20 games together since Chubb was number 5 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and has 29.5 combined sacks in those matches.
Chubb returns from an ankle surgery out of season, Miller returns from an ankle surgery last September that kept him out of the 2020 season. Good luck on the injury front, especially with Miller and Chubb, will be a huge factor in how the end results looks out for the defense.
Is this a playoff team or what?
Maybe, and even though neither Paton nor coach Vic Fangio have made anything close to a playoff-or-bust statement, they have both repeatedly said they like this list, like this team, and there is depth, which did not exist in recent seasons.
Still, team president Joe Ellis may have spoken to everyone involved when he said earlier this summer: “We have to win. We just have to win, that’s already enough for me personally … I just want to see us turn the corner and succeed, we really have to do it now. “
The Broncos will be out of September with something beyond a 0 in the “W” column. In each of the last five years, they have had at least one three-game losing streak, with eight-game losing in 2017 topping the list. The result has been watching the playoffs from home for five years in a row.
The Broncos have not only handled plenty of injuries, been decidedly restless at quarterback, seen what Patrick Mahome’s arrival has done for the balance of power in the league and division, and simply not had enough talent or performed nearly well enough in the big moments to change their fortunes.
They have also moped at times. Losing does it, a quarterback carousel does it and puts it all together, and a loss turns into two, turns into three, then four, then Cancun when other people play about the jewelry.
This Broncos team is more talented than others in recent years, it has more team speed, more depth and should have a more favorable schedule than some others. However, they have to show some gravel, and they can not show that until things get tough in the coming months.