Mark Knudson’s 3 Strikes: Broncos set with Plan J, planning Paton’s Saturday schedule and Juancho goes Hollywood

Denver Broncos quarterback Josh Johnson (11) and quarterback Russel Wilson (3) and quarterback Brett Rypien (4) during OTA workouts at the UC Health Training Center.
May 23, 2022; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Josh Johnson (11) and quarterback Russel Wilson (3) and quarterback Brett Rypien (4) during OTA workouts at the UC Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Strike One: It’s maybe the most repeated press conference quote in Denver history. After signing Peyton Manning – coming off four neck surgeries – to a huge free agent contract in 2011, Broncos executive John Elway was asked what the team would do in the event that Manning wasn’t healthy enough to play.

“There is no Plan B,” Elway answered.

Fortunately for Broncos Country, Plan B wasn’t needed immediately. We all know the story.

Fast forward to 2022. After six forgettable seasons that have included 10 different starting signal callers and zero playoff appearances, Denver finally acquired another All-Pro quarterback to take the reins of a team that Broncos Country believes is just a standout QB away from returning to the promised land. Russell Wilson arrived with a little bit less fanfare, but will don the predominantly orange with the same Super Bowl expectations as Manning did.

And once again there’s no viable Plan B.

Wilson isn’t coming off any major surgeries, and he’s been able to stay healthy most of his 10-year career. But he did miss a little bit of time last year with a hand injury, and he’s now 33 years old, so the question is valid once again. What happens if Wilson goes down?

Anyone? Anyone?

Welcome to Plan J: Josh Johnson. J as in Journeyman.

There’s perhaps no other job anywhere that’ll pay a guy the veteran minimum of $1 million in the hopes that he’ll never be called on to do anything really important. Nice work if you can get it. (Note: Teddy Bridgewater got $6.5 mil to be the backup in Miami.)

Johnson, 37, has been around the block several dozen times, playing for a league record 15 different NFL franchises and in four different pro leagues. He’s started a total of nine NFL games and has gone 1-8. There’s not one thing on his lengthy resume that should lead anyone to believe he can step in (as Brock Osweiler did in 2015) and keep the ship on a championship course for even a handful of games.

Johnson will earn his million bucks – and no one will complain – if Wilson takes every snap this season. But if he’s pressed into action for any length of time, there will be plenty of hand wringing around here.

Yes, it’s true that every NFL team is in big trouble if they lose their starting QB for a large chunk of the season. But Denver has arguably the most precarious backup QB situation in the entire NFL. It’s rare that a team can give the ball to a guy like Nick Foles (currently slated to back up Matt Ryan in Indianapolis) who stepped in for injured Carson Wentz and led Philadelphia to a Super Bowl win in 2017 while earning game MVP honors in the process. But having someone who can fill in successfully for a game or three could be the difference in making the playoffs and missing them for a seventh straight season.

It’s very very unlikely that Denver could give the reins to Johnson for multiple games and stay in the hunt in the AFC West.

Could they still upgrade that position before the season starts? Perhaps. There are a few teams out there that have multiple backup guys with decent resumes who would be an upgrade over Plan J if the Broncos were interested in making a deal. For instance, if rookie Kenny Pickett becomes the starter in Pittsburgh, perhaps either Mason Rudolph or Mitch Trubisky could be acquired? Or maybe Matt Barkley or Case Keenum could be brought in from Buffalo? New Orleans doesn’t necessarily need Andy Dalton while they decide between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill.

You get the point. There’s plenty of space between Plan B and Plan J.

Strike Two: It’s no secret that Broncos general manager George Paton likes to get out of his Dove Valley office on football Saturdays and drop by a local college game to do some old fashioned “see them with my own eyes” kind of scouting. So if George can take his focus off the predominantly orange from time to time, so can you.

There are going to be a number of really good college football matchups around here this fall, games that Paton will very likely attend if at all possible.

With the Broncos opening at home on Sept. 12, he’s got two weekends to see the Colorado Buffaloes mix it up before the Broncos take the first snap. First, on a Friday night September 2nd, the Buffs host TCU at Folsom Field in both teams’ season openers. TCU has a potential first round pick in next year’s draft in wideout Quentin Johnston that Paton may want to watch – or maybe veteran Horned Frogs QB Max Duggan will catch his eye.

The following Saturday, the Buffs make their first visit to the Air Force Academy in 48 years, looking for revenge after the Falcons won an overtime tussle in Boulder in 2019. On paper, the Mountain West team looks to be the favorite, which will shock some fans, but not George, who could have his eyes on Air Force running back Brad Roberts, who will be a handful for the CU defense.

It’s back to Boulder on Sept. 24 when the Buffs host Pac-12 turncoat UCLA at Folsom Field. At this point, Paton will have seen the Buffs play twice already. Will defensive end Terrance Lang have impressed the Broncos GM? How about tight end Brady Russell or wideout R J Sneed? Maybe UCLA’s dual threat quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will get Paton’s attention?

Service Academy football has improved dramatically in recent years, so it will be more than just unmatched pageantry when Navy visits Air Force on Oct. 1. Paton may want to keep his eyes on Navy linebacker/safety John Marshall as he tries to help slow down Roberts and the Falcons option attack.

The Broncos won’t leave for their Monday night game with the Los Angeles Chargers until Sunday, so Saturday Oct. 15 he can head up to Canvas Stadium to watch the new-look CSU Rams and quarterback Clay Millen host Utah State. The Rams don’t have anyone like tight end Trey McBride to keep an eye on, but Paton will undoubtedly find something interesting about Jay Norvell’s pass happy offense. He can actually check the Rams out in person two weeks in a row, when CSU hosts Hawaii the following Saturday. Paton may want to see the Rainbow’s Austin Hopp, a mountain of an offensive lineman at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds. Or maybe defensive tackle Bleesman Ta’ala. Both play a position of need in Denver.

The Broncos will be home for Halloween weekend this year, and that’s always fun in the People’s Republic. Arizona State comes to town on Saturday Oct. 30 so Paton can see the Buffs try to contain Sun Devil’s defensive end Michael Matus. The following week the Oregon Ducks come to Boulder and with the Broncos on a bye week, Paton can check out a couple of Ducks who could be destined for the NFL – defensive end Brando Dorlus and linebacker Noah Sewell.

Would Paton have drafted Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen back in the day? We’ll never know, but he can watch the Border War return to Fort Collins on Nov. 12 before the Broncos leave for Tennessee. Maybe Rams’ wideout Dante Wright will draw Paton’s attention that day? Or maybe the day after Thanksgiving, when CSU hosts New Mexico and Lobos’ safety Jake Reed II.

Since it’s his job to watch football, Paton can be excused if he wants to see the Buffs manufactured rivalry game with Utah that will close out the season the next day at Folsom Field. The Utes have a standout in defensive back Clark Phillips III who will be worth watching.

It’s pretty likely that Paton will be watching these local college games in person on Saturdays.

Be like George.

Strike Three: It was no secret that Lebron James landed in Los Angeles not only to bring another trophy to Lakerland (which he did in the bubble season of 2020) but also to get into the movie business. So helping produce a basketball movie for Netflix that would star basketball/sports fanatic Adam Sandler was sort of a no-brainer.

If you haven’t seen the final result, a Netflix original called “Hustle,” be prepared to be surprised – and entertained. Especially when you see who the star of the movie is.

Who knew that when the Denver Nuggets traded away forward Juancho Hernangomez to Minnesota a month before the COVID shutdown they were trading away a future movie star? Other Denver athletes to be in the movies include former Bronco Lyle Alzado, who stole the show in Ernest Goes to Camp. (if ya know what I mean.) and the Nuggets Alex English, who was really good in Amazing Grace and Chuck.

But in a flick that features a lot of NBA guys – including the Nuggets Aaron Gordon – in supporting roles, Juancho is pretty believable as the central character. He doesn’t just shoot and dunk, he shows some emotion and some acting ability along with a lot of shooting and dunking.

Hernangomez isn’t done playing NBA basketball. After playing for three different teams last season, he’s signed with Toronto and at just 26 years old, could have his best days ahead of him on the court. But if that doesn’t work out, acting might be a nice fall back gig.

Sports movies can be corny and overdone, but they can also be well done and memorable for all the right reasons. Sandler gets the star billing, but Juancho’s character is the focus of the movie and why it’s worth watching. He won’t get his jersey in the rafters and Ball Arena, but maybe a star on the Hollywood walk of Fame?

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