Broncos once again lean on defense as offense builds rapport

DENVER BRONCOS (7-9)

New faces: OC Pat Shurmur, WR Jerry Jeudy, DL Jurrell Casey, CB A.J. Bouye, RG Graham Glasgow, RB Melvin Gordon, ILB Mark Barron, WR/KR KJ Hamler, C Lloyd Cushenberry III, CB Michael Ojemudia, P/KO Sam Martin, TE Albert Okwuegbunam, DT McTelvin Agim, QB2 Jeff Driskel, contract negotiator Rich Hurtado.

Key losses: OC Rich Scangarello, ILB Todd Davis, CB Chris Harris Jr., DE Derek Wolfe, DE Adam Gotsis, FB Andy Janovich, RB Davontae Booker, CB Isaac Yiadom, salary cap director Mike Sullivan.

Strengths: As usual, Denver’s defense is potent and will have to carry load while offense jells. Even without Harris and Wolfe, Broncos should be better with revitalized Von Miller, healthy Bradley Chubb, trade acquisition Casey and improving ILB Alexander Johnson. But in Davis, they released their leading tackler from three of past four years.

Weaknesses: GM John Elway refurbished offense in offseason, but chemistry takes time. LT Garett Bolles kept starting job by default when Elijah Wilkinson went back to right side with RT Ja’Wuan James’ opt out. That rendered center best camp competition with trio of candidates owning zero NFL starts. Also highlighting Elway’s decision to bypass tackle in draft’s second round was Hamler’s hamstring injury that delays speedster’s debut. Despite RB Phillip Lindsay’s back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Broncos broke bank (two years, $16M) for oft-injured Gordon, who promptly missed time with rib injury.

Pandemic Development: Virtual offseason wasn’t ideal for young offense with new coordinator, second-year QB and unit that averages 24.3 years and 18.9 games of NFL experience per projected starter.

Fantasy Player To Watch: Courtland Sutton is Pro Bowl receiver who has most receiving yards (1,816) and TD catches (10) in team history through player’s first two seasons. With Lock settling in under center and Jeudy on board, Sutton should take another jump.

Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl: 50-1. Over/under wins: 8.

Expectations: Coronavirus pandemic forced NFL teams into unconventional offseason and wiped out entire preseason, two factors that led Elway to reduce expectations for Lock in 2020. Lock’s own ambitions haven’t abated one bit. “Not being able to be with the guys as much as you normally would is not going to change how I feel going into the season,” Lock said. That’s exactly kind of swag Elway and fans expected from Lock. But it’ll be uphill climb for Broncos to avoid becoming first team to miss playoffs five consecutive years following Super Bowl title.

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