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Return to Play: Three keys to the Broncos finding success in 2020

In the coming days, each of the major professional sports in the United States will get underway. After being on hiatus due to the coronavirus epidemic, the “big four” will return to the field, court and ice.

As part of this process, Colorado teams will also return to play. The Rockies begin their 2020 season on July 24. The Broncos start training camp on July 28. The Nuggets tip off their eight-game end of the NBA regular season on August 1. And the puck drops on the Avalanche’s three-game round robin on August 2.

Prior to each team getting back to action, will preview their chances of making the second half of 2020 memorable. It continue today with a look at the Broncos.


1. Pat Shumur has to get a young offense to gel

On paper, the Broncos offense looks like it’s loaded with weapons. It’s hard not to like skill position players like Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Noah Fant, Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay. That group has a lot of potential.

That said, most of them have never been on the field together, given that OTAs and minicamps weren’t a part of the offseason. And none of them have ever run Pat Shurmur’s offense, as Denver’s offensive coordinator is new to the job.

As a result, getting everyone on the same page is going to be critical. Doing so with a lot of young players, including a pair of rookies who are going to be counted on heavily at wide receiver, will be a challenge.

Shurmur is a long-time NFL coach, so he certainly knows what he’s doing. And he’s been given a lot of weapons to put to use, something every offensive coordinator desires. But having his group ready to go on Sept. 14, with no preseason games to work out the kinks, will be a huge undertaking.


2. Vic Fangio’s defense has to make some plays

The Broncos have invested heavily on their defense. That side of the ball is home of most of the team’s high-priced players. And it’s the area of expertise of Denver’s head coach.

As a result, this group needs to be great. They can’t be good. They can’t be average. They have to be special.

They have the talent. But it’s up to Vic Fangio to get the most out of them, something he failed to do a year ago.

Von Miller remains one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL. Fangio has to find a way to get more than 8.0 sacks out of the former Super Bowl MVP.

Bradley Chubb is a promising young player. He had 1.0 sack in year one under Fangio before getting injured in 2019.

Those types of numbers aren’t going to cut it. Neither is the type of early season performance that the Broncos produced last season, when they failed to get to the quarterback or force a turnover in the first three weeks of the season, establishing a new record for futility.

In addition, Denver’s defense needs to find a way to come up big in key moments. Last season, they surrendered last-minute drives to the Bears, Jaguars and Colts, turning late-game leads into losses. Fangio’s group has to be able to close out games.

The Broncos offense will be better in 2020, but they’re still not the strength of the team. Denver is only going to go as far as their defense will take them.


3. Drew Lock has to be the guy

It’s the most important position in all of sports. So it’s no shock that the Broncos quarterback has to be good in order for the team to be successful.

Lock is the seventh QB to get a shot at the job since Peyton Manning retired, so there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. Can the former second-round pick be better than Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen?

During his five-game audition last year, the young quarterback certainly looked the part. He threw seven touchdowns and just three interceptions during that span, leading the Broncos to a 4-1 record in the process. And he brought some swagger to the field, rejuvenating a dormant offense.

But that was at the end of a lost season, with very little on the line. Now, it’ll be Lock’s job from day one, with expectations through the roof. Broncos Country is used to great quarterback play, so they won’t settle for mediocre or endure many growing pains.