Top 5 Denver Broncos storylines heading into training camp

Vic Fangio with his team in May. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Vic Fangio with his team in May. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

The plot of the 2021 Denver Broncos has yet to be written, but we know there will be a ton of different storylines throughout the season.

Without a doubt, the Broncos are a very interesting team, and current general manager George Paton and previous decision-maker John Elway definitely built a talented roster.

The good news is for Broncos fans, there will be a lot of storylines to follow before and throughout the 2021 NFL training camp. The bad news is, there are a lot of unknowns for this team and not all endings may be good ones.

Now, we know several things about the team heading into training camp, but here are the top-5 storylines that must get answered before the start of the regular season.

Will the team see a strong return of elite players?

Von Miller and Courtland Sutton were lost for the 2020 season. Miller suffered an ankle injury right before Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans. Sutton, who missed the first game, was injured just plays into the Week 2 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When healthy, each player raises the play of their side of the ball. With Miller, the Broncos are anticipated to have one of the game’s best defenses. The former Super Bowl MVP is needed to ensure the team can bring maximum pressure with minimal players.

Vic Fangio’s defense is at its best when the team can create turnovers without sending blitzes. The design of the match/quarters brings turnovers because there are more defenders in coverage. Miller is also a tremendous run defender, which comes in handy with a lighter box.

Sutton, a 2019 Pro-Bowl player, brings a downfield component that is necessary to stretch the field. The 70/30 jump ball master has a tremendous connection forming with Drew Lock. How Teddy Bridgewater builds rapport with the budding superstar will greatly impact who lines up behind center in 2021.

How do Miller’s ankle and Sutton’s knee respond to the impact of the daily grind of practice again? Also, how does the team choose what preseason games they play in, if any? And, with both players on the last year of their contract, will either have movement on a new deal?

There are lots of questions surrounding No. 58 and No. 14, and how these questions are answered will greatly impact this season and if either player will be back next season.

How will a Broncos offense look after a full offseason?

A lot has been made of the team’s struggles in 2020. Denver had a young roster and little time to gel; what resulted was another disappointing 5-11 season.

However, this season provides a much more “normal” offseason as the team was able to attend the entire set of organized team activities and minicamp practices.

Questions now arise about the potential for Lock to improve with a full offseason and a second year in the same offense. Those who believe in Lock cite the lack of a normal offseason to mesh with rookies like Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, while also learning a complete Pat Shurmur offense. Those who believe Lock is not the answer at quarterback cite the success of Los Angeles Chargers rookie Justin Herbert and his lack of offseason prep as someone who succeeded in similar circumstances.

No matter your view on Lock, the performance of the offense during the first and second halves of the 2020 campaign felt quite different. Shurmur seemed to understand what his young players did well while leaning on veteran Melvin Gordon more.

Will the offense pick up where they left off or struggle to find their footing? Additionally, will Gordon’s success in the back end of last season and the addition of rookie running back Javonte Williams influence Shurmur to focus more on the running game?

How those questions get answered in training camp will be quite telling towards the team’s success this season.

Who will answer the Broncos’ quarterback conundrum?

Who will emerge as the Broncos’ starting quarterback is the talk of training camp? Last year’s starting quarterback, Lock, is in a 50/50 quarterback battle with Teddy Bridgewater. Certainly, each quarterback has a lot to prove before week one of the season.

However, the black cloud of Aaron Rodgers’ saga casts a large shadow on the team’s plans a the game’s most important position. Rodgers, the ultimate trump card, could potentially be in play into the season.

Will Year 2 in the same scheme and improved focus benefit Lock? Will the veteran Bridgewater‘s steadiness be enough to win the job?

Now that Aaron Rodgers is no longer an option, it is Lock versus Bridgewater barring something drastic.

For fans to feel confident this team will be different than the past five seasons whoever plays quarterback must be more than serviceable. Broncos Country has been starved for good quarterback play since the beginning of the 2014 season. Since the team passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the draft, this fanbase demands production from Game 1 into the playoffs.

What is the narrative around this defensive’s dominance, or lack thereof?

The Broncos 2021 defensive roster is stacked to the brim with playmakers. The return of Miller along with key additions in the secondary lead many to believe this defense should one of the NFL’s top-5 best, at minimum.  Definitely, the performance of the defense will have a large impact on how the team fares this season.

First, defensively, veterans make up the majority of the team’s contributors on that side of the ball and there will be minimal excuses given for a “learning curve” this season. The pressure is on Fangio to have his players meshing quickly which means creating turnovers and consistent pressure must be visible each day of camp.

If this defense is as good as advertised, what will the impact be on the team’s offensive confidence?

Can this team get through the season injury/COVID-19 free?

Last year’s Broncos were marred by injuries and COVID-19. On top of losing elite talent like Miller and Sutton for the entire season, the team had to play an NFL game without a quarterback due to COVID-19 protocol violations. Overall, the team was negatively impacted by health and safety as much as any team in the NFL.

To combat this, the team has successfully encouraged their staff and players to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and now sits above 85 percent. This should help minimize safety protocols but Denver now needs good fortune for health, especially for their contributing players.

With the addition of a 17th game to the season, head strength and conditioning coach Loren Landow and his staff are tasked with finding ways to help players stay (major) injury-free.

To reach the team’s goal of returning to postseason play for the first time since Super Bowl 50, the team must stay healthy and on the field.

Of course, in the grueling world of the NFL, that may just be a bit on the hopeful side. But, teams who avoid the injury bug usually are among those still alive in the postseason.

Denver needs to not only stay healthy this year, but hope their superstars come back from major injuries last year, while hoping the offense looks much improved with either Lock or Bridgewater behind center.