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As Broncos training camp begins, a look back at Drew Lock's 5-game audition

QBs, injured vets and rookies report to camp Thursday at UCHealth Training Center. Lock is the man on Day 1 and from now on.
Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

DENVER — Big money in free agency was spent for Drew Lock.

The top four rounds of the Broncos’ draft were selected for Lock.

And now, at long last, the second-year quarterback Lock will lead the Broncos and his new players onto the practice field, and into the weight and meeting rooms, for the start of Broncos training camp.

Don’t forget to pump some hand sanitizer onto that valuable right hand, Drew. The coronavirus pandemic is not dead, but the NFL is no longer closed. Broncos rookies are to report Thursday to the team’s UCHealth Training Center for the start of camp.

There are 19 Broncos rookies on their 90-man roster, led by first-round receiver Jerry Jeudy, who has an $8.61 million signing bonus awaiting him when he signs his first contract this week.

Also eligible to report early for camp on Thursday are the team’s quarterbacks – Lock, fellow veterans Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien and undrafted rookie Riley Neal – plus injured veterans, including projected starters Bradley Chubb and Bryce Callahan.

It will be primarily conditioning workouts and meetings until the veterans arrive on July 28. But Lock will be able to loosen up his arm with the likes of Jeudy, second-round receiver KJ Hamler and fourth-round tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, while taking some snaps from rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry III.

Newcomer veterans include right guard Graham Glasgow, running back Melvin Gordon and tight end Nick Vannett, who received a combined $69.7 million worth of contracts as free agents this offseason.

Before Lock gets started on his second NFL season with the Broncos, let’s look back at his successful 5-game audition to finish last season that earned him such lofty expectations as the team’s starting quarterback going into 2020:

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock passes under pressure form Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Denver.

Game 1: December 1, vs. Chargers, at Empower Field at Mile High

Outcome: Broncos 23, Chargers 20

Stats: 18 of 28, 134 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 84.5 RTG; 3 rushes, 15 yards

Analysis: Remember, the feeling was Lock wouldn’t quite be ready. After injuring his thumb during a preseason game, Lock was eligible to start playing in week 9. The Broncos held him back until week 13, game 12.

But Lock got a terrific one-handed catch by Courtland Sutton for an early 26-yard touchdown.

"'Amazing' is not even a good word for how great of a catch that was,'' Lock said.

Lock and Sutton connected for another touchdown to give the Broncos a 17-3 halftime lead.

From the 9News game story: Lock played with the confidence of a kid in his neighbor’s backyard. He moved away from the pressure and either made a play or avoided a series-killing sack.

He was 10 of 15 at the half for 83 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 120.3 passer rating.

"I think there's promise there,'' said head coach Vic Fangio of his new quarterback. "I really do. I'm not ready to put him in Canton, yet.''

Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2019 file photo Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Houston. After each of his three touchdown throws in Denver's 38-24 win at Houston, Lock impersonated Buzz Lightyear firing his laser beam.

Game 2: December 8, at Houston, NRG Stadium

Outcome: Broncos 38, Texans 24

Stats: 22 of 27, 309 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 136.0 RTG; 3 rushes, 15 yards

Analysis: After they were unable to re-sign heir apparent Brock Osweiler and failed to convince Colin Kaepernick to join a Super Bowl winner, after they stop-gapped with Trevor Siemian before signing disappointments that were Case Keenum and Joe Flacco, the first half of this game was when John Elway and all of Broncos Country got excited.

Lock just may be the answer. Entering the game as 9-point underdogs against the playoff-bound Texans, Lock torched the Houston defense for 223 yards passing and three touchdown passes while completing 14 of 17 passes for a perfect 158.3 passer rating – in the first half.

Pointing the large play sheet taped to his left forearm following touchdowns Lock with his cute Buzz Lightyear act had the Broncos up 31-3 at halftime against the stunned DeShaun Watson-led Texans. And the Broncos went up 38-3 after Lock’s second-half opening drive.

With Lock performing so well through his 2-0 start, there was reason to wonder if the Broncos should have started playing him earlier.

“I think the plan that they put together was perfect,'' Lock said.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) throws against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Game 3: December 15 vs. Chiefs at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium

Outcome: Chiefs 23, Broncos 3

Stats: 18 of 40, 208 yards, 0 TS, 1 INT, 50.8 RTG; 2 rushes, 3 yards

Analysis: Lock was going to have a tough game as a rookie, and this was his reality check. He battled. He wasn’t awful. But in a heavy snowstorm, he was no match for the improved Chiefs’ defense in trying to keep up with Kansas City superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes II.

Growing up in nearby Lee’s Summit, Mo., Lock made the quintessential rookie mistake late in the third quarter when on first down at the Chiefs’ 11, he forced a pass into the end zone was easily intercepted.

Mahomes, meanwhile, was unstoppable in treacherous conditions, completing 27 of 34 for 340 yards and two touchdowns. It was the Broncos’ ninth consecutive loss to the Chiefs, dating back to early 2015.

This game reassured Elway and Fangio that if they were to beat Mahomes and the Chiefs for the AFC West title, the Broncos would have to dramatically upgrade their offense.

Their answer was Gordon, Jeudy, Hamler, Glasgow and Vannett.  

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) eluds Detroit Lions defensive end Frank Herron (75) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Denver.

Game 4: December 22, vs. Lions, at Empower Field at Mile High

Outcome: Broncos 27, Lions 17

Stats: 25 of 33, 192 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 99.6 RTG; 4 rushes, 19 yards

Analysis: This game tested Lock’s ability to play from behind while feeling less than 100 percent. The Lions were dreadful, losers of seven straight and playing an undrafted rookie quarterback in David Blough, who was replacing the injured Matthew Stafford and Jeff Driskel.

Yet, the Lions were ahead, 10-0, midway through the second quarter and 17-13 early in the fourth.

Battling a virus (not that kind) that had spread through the locker room, Lock turned in a splendid, game managing-type performance. His 3-yard touchdown pass to DaeSean Hamilton early in the 4th quarter put the Broncos ahead for good.

Lock took what was there with his throws and didn’t try to force the ball downfield.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock after an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Denver.

Game 5: December 29, vs. Raiders, at Empower Field at Mile High

Outcome: Broncos 16, Raiders 15

Stats: 17 of 28, 177 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 90.9 RTG; 6 rushes, 29 yards 

Analysis: The wounded Raiders dominated the game, amassing 477 total yards to just 238 for the Broncos.

Yet, Lock found a way. He again delivered an efficient, game-manager performance. He didn’t throw an interception for a second consecutive game. He scrambled some, although he once took a blast outside the pocket that he wouldn’t have with a slide.

5-game overview

Record: 4-1

Stats: 100 of 156 (64.1 percent), 1,020 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs, 89.7 RTG; 18 rushes, 72 yards

Analysis: Keep in mind Lock inherited a Broncos team that was 3-7 through its first 10 games. And the team was 5-11 and 6-10 in the two seasons before. The Broncos’ 4-1 mark with Lock as quarterback was encouraging.

He inspired the team. You could feel it. When the defense believes in its quarterback, it plays better.

As 5-game auditions go, Lock experienced just about everything. Winning, losing, coming-from-behind, playing surprising well, getting humbled against his hometown Chiefs, making some eye-popping throws downfield against tight coverage. And throwing the occasional, “why-did-he-throw-that” interceptions.

Statistically, he only averaged 204 passing yards a game. But the rookie play-calling restraints will be loosened this season, especially as he has more speed in which to distribute the ball. One change that will draw more scrutiny as the season goes along: Lock will have a new offensive coordinator.

Pat Shurmur, a veteran play caller, replaced Rich Scangarello, who struggled early in his rookie season calling plays but did a nice job bringing Lock along.  

“Being able to have all these different experiences, coming from behind, going on the road, getting your butt kicked on the road, winning your first game, I think all of those will help add up to me having more experience,’’ Lock said after the final game. “And going into next year feeling very confident that no matter what situation we get put in, we will be able to come out positive on the other side.”

He will have more bad games but as he showed following the Chiefs game last year, he will bounce back. Lock’s boss, Elway, didn’t have his breakout “Drive” moment until near the end of his fourth season.

Lock may be way better in his fourth season of 2023 than he is this season. But he is the Broncos’ quarterback from the final 5 games of 2019 until the foreseeable future.

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