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4 Qs and 4 As with Mile High Report: Key Broncos to watch against the Seahawks

DENVER BRONCOS VS MINNESOTA VIKINGS, NFL PRESEASON Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Normally during the regular season we exchange five questions and answers with the opposition SB Nation site ahead of a Seattle Seahawks game. This year we’re doing a special preseason edition before Saturday’s showdown with the Denver Broncos. Since it is preseason we’re chopping it down to just four Qs & As, but nevertheless we hope you find this informative!

I asked Joe (Just_JoRo) from Mile High Report about the Broncos’ win over the Minnesota Vikings, as well as the decision to draft Patrick Surtain Jr over both Mac Jones and Justin Fields, the job security of Vic Fangio, as well as some names we should focus in on for the Seahawks matchup. Enjoy!

1) What were some of the most encouraging things you saw out of the Broncos’ preseason opener against the Vikings?

After a 2020 season where he looked like one of the worst starting quarterbacks in football, it was definitely encouraging to see Drew Lock’s performance against the Vikings. The third year passer showed poise in the pocket after spending most of last year bailing to his right. He also showed that he’s grown in his ability to make it through progressions. It remains to be seen if these trends will continue, however, as reports out of camp and the coaching staff continue to say the QB1 competition between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater is very close. One thing that’s hard to ignore is how the Vikings did not play any defensive starter, so neither Lock nor Bridgewater dealt with a pass rush last weekend.

Another encouraging development from the Minnesota game was the play of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson’s backups. The starting safeties didn’t play, but in their stead P.J. Locke III and rookie Caden Sterns showed out. Sterns has been making himself known throughout camp with his range and ability to trigger downhill, but Locke was a bit of a surprise. The former undrafted free agent out of Texas was a special teams contributor a year ago, but last weekend was the first time we got to see him play notable snaps on defense. He was always around the ball and did a very good job running the alley to help in run defense. He also had a nice pass breakup that saved a touchdown.

2.) There were a lot of eyebrows raised with the Denver Broncos taking cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr with their first draft pick, especially with Justin Fields and Mac Jones available. Do you think the Broncos should’ve gone with one of those QBs over Surtain?

I do, and I suspect time will tell George Paton made a catastrophic error because Fields will emerge as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. This isn’t to say Surtain is a bad player, of course. He was the top rated defender on my board throughout the pre-draft process and stood out as a very good fit in the Fangio defense. Throughout camp he’s received rave reviews as the Broncos’ coaching staff has moved him around the defense. Denver’s expected to play more dime personnel this season as a way to take advantage Surtain’s ability to erase pass catchers of all shapes, sizes, and skillsets.

3.) This is year three for Vic Fangio and the Broncos have not been back to the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl. What are the expectations for this year and could Fangio be on the hot seat if the team goes another year without postseason football?

It’s playoffs or bust for Fangio. Back when George Paton was first hired as general manager a local insider reported that he approached this year as an unofficial “freebie” year before he had to go under the gun himself. With Elway hanging around as president, the Broncos plan this offseason was to hold onto the main contributors, patch depth, and hope that better health luck and a less disruptive offseason could lead to breakout performances for their young offense.

4.) Who are some of the lesser known Broncos that Seahawks fans should keep an eye on for Saturday’s game?

I’ve already mentioned Caden Sterns and P.J. Locke and assume they’ll be major factors after the starters hit the pine. Looking beyond them, Justin Strnad and Baron Browning are a duo I’m keeping an eye on. Strnad is a second year linebacker out of Wake Forest who missed all of his rookie season with a wrist injury, but he offers more range and potential coverage chops than the Broncos’ starting duo of Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson. Browning’s a huge wildcard. He missed most of camp after sustaining an injury during OTAs, but the 2021 third round pick is a phenomenal athlete and adds pass rush versatility in a way Strnad doesn’t.

With how much I expect Seattle to run the ball, it’s also going to be fascinating to see how the Broncos’ defensive line performs. Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, and Shelby Harris are the starting trio and look set to emerge as one of the better interiors in the league. Jones has received a ton of praise from anyone who’s talked about him at camp. Behind them is 2020 third round pick McTelvin Agim, veteran pickup Shamar Stephen, and last year’s find DeShawn Williams.

On offense the Broncos have a couple of really promising linemen in Netane Muti and Calvin Anderson who had some comical double teams against the Vikings last week. When I recently spoke with a reporter about the offensive line, I was told Muti’s looked like the best guard in camp. He’ll play a pivotal role in Javonte Williams’ performance against the Seahawks as the Broncos use a lot of pulling guards on their gap concepts and Muti should help lead the way for the running game.

Lastly, I’m eager to see if Trinity Benson can keep up what he’s shown throughout camp and the first preseason game. The Broncos are quite deep at receiver with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and Tim Patrick all capable of starting, but Benson’s combined reliable hands with splash plays. The third year pro took some time to develop, but may be headed for a breakout this season.

Thanks to Joe for his time! Over at MHR you can read John Fraley’s answers to Joe’s questions in the link below.