ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — This offseason has been unlike any other for almost every player on the Denver Broncos‘ roster.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every part of the Broncos’ offseason, even as the team tries to implement a plan for training camp in the weeks to come. Other than workouts quarterback Drew Lock organized with a small group of teammates, the Broncos’ offseason was largely a virtual-only affair. Only the recovering injured players spent any time at the team complex.
“And that part, it’s kind of like my rookie year, a lot like that year,” is how linebacker Von Miller put it in recent weeks. ” … Coming in for camp, getting on the field for the first time, it will be something like that year this year.”
Beyond the 2020 health protocols that will be in place whenever the Broncos’ players and coaches return to work, the 2011 training camp may provide at least some direction when it comes to practices, ramping up conditioning and working through the playbook.
That year, a lockout by the NFL’s team owners washed out the offseason programs. The two sides didn’t hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement until July 25 that summer, and training camps opened only after the 132-day lockout ended.
“But we won’t be behind any more than anyone else is,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “It’d be different if half the teams were shut down and half weren’t, and luckily me and a bunch of the other coaches have had experience with the lockout in 2011. From a football standpoint, it’s very similar to that.”
Fangio continued: “I was with the Niners then, and we were a totally new staff. … We hadn’t even met our players, and we didn’t meet our players until training camp started. And we did fine that year. I don’t see it as a big issue.”
Fangio was Jim Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator in 2011 as Harbaugh, in his first year in that job, led the team to a 13-3 finish. The 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship Game to close out that season.
Only three Broncos were in the league then — Miller, safety Kareem Jackson and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey — and only Miller was with the Broncos at the time. Miller and Casey were rookies while Jackson was entering his second season.
The Broncos also had a new coaching staff, as John Fox had been hired in January of that year.
“We didn’t even meet the guys, really, until they came in after the CBA got signed. It was like a three-day sprint between the CBA was done and we opened camp, like, ‘Hey, let me introduce everybody, see you at practice in 20 minutes,'” Fox said.
“At that point, right in the beginning, your biggest thing is kind of conditioning and seeing where all of the guys are at in that regard — you didn’t want to practice and have a bunch of guys go down because you didn’t ramp it up the right way. Installing things, you just deal with timetable you have, but guys did have to cram for the test a little bit.”
In terms of football, the Broncos’ virtual meetings have put this year’s rookie class ahead of where Miller and the rest of the rookies were at this point in 2011. This year’s Broncos spent weeks in daily online meetings with coaches and teammates.
“What I can tell you is we have everybody where they’ll have all the tools they’ll need when they hit the field,” Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. “We can’t tell you how it will be physically. We’ve just created ways to use film and create interaction, have them talking to each other. It’s a very big plus.”
“I feel like we’ll all have a good handle on what we’re doing when we get on the field,” linebacker Bradley Chubb said. “If I was a rookie right now, I think I’d feel like, after our virtual meetings and all that, I understood the basics of what we’re doing. I don’t think it will take too long for everybody to get in the flow on the field. It might be a little different if we didn’t have those meetings.
“I’ve talked to Von about . I think that would have been tough as a rookie, just to jump in during camp and try to get it.”
Because of the health and safety protocols that are expected to be place when teams get the green light to open training camp, which will limit how the players meet and gather in the facility, there will be plenty to deal with.
“And practices might be different, how we do it. We’ll see,” Miller said. “But coming in without any practices, OTAs or anything like that, I’ve done that. At least I know what that looks like ,and the older guys like me will just help the younger guys. That’s how it has to be.”