By Howard Balzer
He started only five games at the end of last season, but the Denver Broncos saw enough from Drew Lock that that they have gone all-in on the former Mizzou quarterback to be their starter this season.
That was evident before the draft when the Broncos signed running back Melvin Gordon to pair with Phillip Lindsay and even moreso in the first four rounds of the draft when they selected three pass catchers.
The final one was the clincher, tight end and Lock’s former teammate Albert Okwuegbunam, in the fourth round. The first two were wide receivers Jerry Jeudy (first round) and K.J. Hamler (second) to go with third-year receiver Courtland Sutton and tight end Noah Fant, their No. 1 pick in 2019.
Broncos general manager John Elway quickly revealed Saturday he and head coach Vic Fangio reached out to Lock before they made the choice,
Elway even referred to Okwuegbunam as Albert O and said, “The first phone call we made today, Vic and I made, was to Drew to find out about Albert and see what he thought about him because he had a much better junior year when Drew was there than he had last year. We wanted to find out and get the inside on him. Drew really liked him and gave him really high praise and thought he was a guy that could come in here and help us and talked about how he could really, really run, but he had a poor year last year.
“We were really kind of going off his junior year. Then when Drew gave him the seal of approval, we were glad. He was our target in the fourth round and he was still there, and we got him. Plus, to put him on the other side from Noah, he’s a 4.49 guy that can really run at 258 pounds, (he’s) a target, good in the red zone. He’s another weapon with great speed that we could add.”
The Broncos have struggled to find the right quarterback after the retirement of Peyton Manning, and now Elway feels confident.
He admitted, “I think that as a quarterback, there’s no question you always want to have great weapons around you, but I think the key thing is trying to figure out how to win football games. I think that when you look back over the last four years, since Super Bowl 50 when we really won it on the defensive side, then when Peyton retired, we’ve been trying to find that replacement for Peyton since then. We’ve tried to concentrate on the defensive side with the idea that if we can keep the score down, we’ll stay in football games and eventually try to find the quarterback we can replace him with and get the offense back on track.
“I think with the way Drew played at the end of last year, we saw the signs of a guy that has a chance to be very successful in this league, but to do that, he’s got to have some good people around him. We felt like we’re still in good shape defensively, and that we needed to add that explosive feature on the offensive side. We had the guy we believe over time, as I’ve talked about, that it’s going to take some time, to give him a chance to be successful and us a chance to be successful. We’ve got to put points on the board. Seventeen points a game is not nearly enough, so the first step was this year in the draft.”
After being selected, Albert O said, “We talked a little before the draft just saying it would be cool if we landed together. We didn’t know it was going to happen. Right after I got the call, he was actually blowing up my phone and was super fired up. I can’t wait to talk to him and be reunited with him.
“It’s awesome. I can’t even explain how fired up I am to get in this new offense. Just to have that kind of chemistry and trust and confidence already established there as far as that connection already being there, that’s awesome. Just to have that gel, have that confidence, it’s going to be great. I’m excited to see how it all unfolds.”
Asked how they developed that bond, he said, “Off the field we’re brothers. We get along great and I think that really just translated onto the field. Being with him in Missouri, I just felt like a lot of the times in tough situations, I was the guy that he always felt comfortable with just knowing that he always had an open throw to me, regardless of the situation. If we needed a big play, his eyes are coming to me. Just the amount of confidence he had in me, just coming out of routes I feel like we’re always on the same page. I feel like all across the board just that chemistry is there.”
Now, they will be trying to duplicate it on the biggest stage there is.