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HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 08: Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos celebrates as he heads to the locker room after the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 8, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
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Early schedule means Drew Lock can get off to a hot start in 2021

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos are going to have a quarterback competition in training camp between veteran Teddy Bridgewater and third-year incumbent Drew Lock. They traded for Bridgewater earlier this offseason so they could actually get a quarterback in the building who could push Lock to be better than he has been.

Lock is entering the third year of his pro career, and he hasn’t put much film out there that gets you excited about his upside if he continues as the starter. That has him on the hot seat.

Speaking of which, Vic Fangio has not won a game in September during the first two seasons of his head-coaching career with the Broncos. When the schedule was released on Wednesday, many thought that it could help Fangio finally get that elusive September win.

Looking beyond that, the early season schedule for the Broncos sets up for Lock to look good as the starter – if he wins the job.

Can Lock get off to a hot start at the beginning of the season? Let’s take a look.

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Week 1 at New York Giants

Lock needs to first prove that he’s not going to turn the ball over as frequently this season. Good thing he’ll be facing the Giants on the road in Week 1. They’re a defense that didn’t snare many interceptions last year, and they may not be able to do much more in that department this year.

It’s all about “rush and cover” when it comes to generating turnovers in the NFL. The Giants added to their secondary, and they did make moves to help their pass rush, but they may still be lacking when it comes to players who can get after the passer.

They generated 40 sacks last year which was about middle of the pack in the NFL. They added two edge players in the draft (Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith) to help and they picked up free agent defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo on a one-year deal to see if he can get his career back on track (he didn’t do much last year with a large role with the Vikings).

In 2020, the Giants had only 11 interceptions on the season. That made them the No. 22 defense in that category. This offseason, the Giants made moves to try to improve that part of their defense by signing cornerback Adoree Jackson to a three-year, $39 million contract. It was not their only moves at the position as they added Joshua Kalu (Titans) and Christopher Milton (Titans) in free agency as well. In addition to their moves in free agency, the Giants added two cornerbacks (Aaron Robinson and Rodarius Williams) in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will be facing off against his former team. He used to be the head coach of the Giants and knows several of these players well. Expect him to craft a game plan that will pick on the weaknesses the Giants have on the defensive side of the ball.

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Week 2 at Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and many will be focused on what that young man does this season – for good reason. It will be a duel between Lawrence and Lock, so the Broncos QB had better look better than the rookie.

Even though Lawrence has the looks of a “can’t miss” prospect, this will only be his second game and he’ll be facing a Fangio defense. On the other hand, Lock will be facing a much less talented defense in this contest.

Jacksonville is no longer “Sack-sonville,” as they used to be a few years ago. Instead, they were one of the worst teams in terms of sacks last year.

In 2020, Jacksonville had the No. 31 defense in terms of sacks with just 18 on the year. In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jaguars added one edge player on Day 3 (Jordan Smith) and I’m surprised they didn’t draft more players at the position. They are planning on younger pass-rushers like Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson to do more in 2021, and the upside is there even though the production from those two wasn’t there last year.

The secondary has been revamped this offseason through the draft and free agency. They didn’t get sacks in 2020, so it’s amazing they were able to get 12 interceptions, which ranked middle of the pack in the NFL.

Their big move was to add Shaquil Griffin in free agency with a three-year, $40 million deal. In addition to Griffin, the secondary was boosted with the addition of safety Rayshawn Jenkins. In the draft, Jacksonville added one cornerback (Tyson Cambpell) and one safety (Andre Cisco). Both are players with upside but will have to work their way up the depth chart.

The excitement is around Lawrence and the Jaguars offense, and their defense is still going to be a work in progress. In fact, many are projecting the Jaguars to have another top-five pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. They’re not a good team – yet – so Lock could take advantage of them.

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Week 3 vs New York Jets

The first home game for the Broncos could see them debut in front of the home crowd with an undefeated record. Like with the game against the Jaguars, the focus will be on the opponent’s rookie quarterback.

With the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jets selected Zach Wilson from BYU. Wilson will be starting in the third game of his pro career, and all eyes will be on his performance – and how Lock stacks up against him.

The Jets defense gives Lock an opportunity to win the game and look better than the highly hyped rookie quarterback on the other side. New York had 21 sacks last year, ranking No. 21 in the NFL with that mark.

The Jets don’t get after the passer and didn’t add any edge players in the 2021 NFL Draft. They made moves in free agency (Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry) to help up front on defense. With the strength of the Broncos offensive line, Lock should have a certain level of comfort in this game.

The secondary is a concern for the Jets, as well. Their 10 interceptions last year were among the lowest in the league, ranking No. 26 in the NFL. The Jets waited until day three of the draft to address their secondary, but they did that with five picks (Jamien Sherwood, Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Brandin Echols). Those young players have some upside, but they may not be tasked with doing much this early in their rookie seasons.

In free agency, the Jets added veteran defensive back Lamarcus Joyner to a one-year contract. If those new guys up front don’t get pressure, these guys in the secondary are going to be exposed.

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Summary

Lock has a chance to win three games in a row to start the season. Not only that, but he also has a chance to quiet the doubters in the fan base and in the media.

Most importantly, Lock has the chance to build real confidence in his game to start his third season. That’s the type of momentum that can carry over to the rest of the year as the Broncos try to get back in the playoff hunt after five years of missing the postseason. If Lock leads this team to the playoffs in 2021, he will enter his contract year in 2022 on a high note.

The opportunity is there for Lock to turn things around – even though he’s looked like one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Now, we just see if he can do it.