“I think they have an awesome plan.”
Well, Drew, that makes one of us.
On a snowy Tuesday in Denver, Drew Lock met with the media and answered questions about his availability for the rest of the season. It was an eye-opening conversation.
For starters, Broncos Country learned that the rookie quarterback was medically cleared to return to practice “a couple of weeks ago.” Despite getting over that hurdle, Denver chose not to get Lock back onto the field as soon as he was eligible to return from the injured reserve list.
Instead of getting him some much-needed reps in Weeks 7 or 8, Denver chose to do nothing. Leading up to the Chiefs game, it was explained away as the Broncos having little more than glorified walkthroughs on the week of a Thursday night game. And heading into the showdown with the Colts last Sunday, it was clear that John Elway and Company were simply trying to buy time to determine whether or not they’d stay in contention in the AFC West and the playoff chase.
That decision bit the Broncos in the behind this week when it was announced Joe Flacco would be sidelined for Sunday’s game against the Browns. Instead of having Lock ready to go in the first week he could return to the active roster, Denver will have to go with Brandon Allen at quarterback when Cleveland comes to town.
It’s a huge opportunity lost, as facing a 2-5 team at home would’ve been an ideal way to make a debut. Instead, the Broncos will get a long look at a quarterback who wasn’t on their roster during OTAs, minicamps, training camp or the preseason.
In addition, the decision to not have Lock on the practice field also prevents him from being the backup this week. Denver can’t have a player who hasn’t been playing football be just one play away from taking real snaps. So, fellow rookie Brett Rypien will be activated from the practice squad and serve as the No. 2 quarterback against the Browns.
Good grief, what a disaster. Because they drug their feet, Lock isn’t even ready to be the backup.
So the Broncos will go into Sunday’s game with a pair of quarterbacks who have never taken an NFL snap, yet one of them isn’t their second-round pick. That’s almost hard to fathom.
But that’s what happens when a team doesn’t have a plan. Clearly, the Broncos didn’t with Lock. Or if they did, they didn’t stick to it.
It’s debatable whether or not the rookie should’ve ever gone on injured reserve in the first place. After all, his sprained thumb didn’t require surgery; it only needed rest. By contrast, Drew Brees went under the knife and returned to the field in five weeks.
But once Denver decided to free up a spot on the active roster for opening day by putting Lock on IR, they needed to know what they were going to do with him. The decision should’ve been made that he’d be on the practice field in Week 7 and activated by Week 9.
Period. End of discussion.
It made no sense to have Allen serve as the backup to Flacco any longer than necessary. It’s not as though he’s a seasoned veteran who can keep the train on the tracks while the starter gets healthy. He’s never played in an NFL game, just like Lock. So if reps needed to go to the No. 2 quarterback at any point in the season, they might as well go to the future face of the franchise.
In addition, this course of action would’ve set the Broncos up to make a move for the future if the season went sideways. Not that any franchise wants to think negatively, but they should still prepare to maximize all 16 games, whether it’s for wins or development.
But the Broncos failed to do that, despite the fact that even right now Lock is just as capable of serving as a backup as Allen. Neither quarterback will be expected to carry his team to victory.
Instead, Denver gave themselves some wiggle room. They wanted to be able to use their two IR activations on Jake Butt, Tim Patrick and/or Theo Riddick if they were still in contention, with the belief that those players would help in a playoff run more than a rookie quarterback.
That’s not necessarily untrue, but it’s still foolish and shortsighted. With all due respect to Butt, Patrick and Riddick, if they were going to be the team’s difference makers down the stretch, the Broncos probably weren’t a legit contender anyway. And if Denver was somehow in the race, getting an injury-prone tight end, second-year wideout or newcomer at running back back on the field should never have been more important than getting a rookie quarterback some valuable reps.
But the head-scratching moves don’t end there.
At least not having Lock involved up this point can be blamed on good, if misguided, intentions; the Broncos thought they were in the postseason picture. There’s no such free pass available for continuing to hold him out. But that’s what the Broncos appear likely to do.
Brett Rypien is expected to be promoted from practice squad and become Brad Allen's backup, per source close to Elway. Broncos keeping to plan to have Drew Lock wait until after bye to start practicing, source said.
The plan is Brandon Allen-Brett Rypien for a few. #9sports
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) October 29, 2019
A look at the Broncos schedule after the bye week provides a potential answer.
After hosting the Browns this weekend and enjoying a break, Denver will travel to Minnesota (Nov. 17) and Buffalo (Nov. 24). Those two teams boast stout defenses, so they’d be tough places for a quarterback to make his NFL debut.
Those two games are followed by a home tilt against the Chargers on Dec. 1, which seems tailor made for Lock’s debut. But that doesn’t appear likely. If it was, the rookie would be practicing this week.
After L.A. visits, the Broncos are back on the road. This time, it is trips to Houston (Dec. 8) and Kansas City (Dec. 15). Again, a pair of playoff teams look daunting.
That leaves the final two games of the season as the most-likely spots for Lock to get his chance. Denver hosts Detroit in Week 16, followed by the Raiders in the season finale.
But why wait that long? Why give valuable practice reps and in-game learning experiences to Allen and Rypien?
Surely, it’s not just to protect the kid. That seems like way too much coddling for a young player. After all, Elway made his debut in Three Rivers Stadium against Jack Lambert and the famed Steelers defense. It’s gotta happen at some point.
But that’s not the way the Broncos see it. Instead, they’re content to waste multiple games on quarterbacks who don’t figure to be a part of the team’s future.
This continues a trend that dates back to training camp, when Denver insisted on giving Kevin Hogan (remember him?) the No. 2 reps for the first few weeks of practice instead of letting the kid play. It was maddening then. And it’s maddening now.
But the rookie at the center of the storm seems to be on board. For now, he’s taking everything in stride.
“Whenever they feel like they want to put that plan in place, then I’ll be ready,” Lock said on Tuesday.
Here’s hoping that’s sooner rather than later.
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