UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Storylines of note as Broncos open camp

The Broncos begin their most anticipated summer training camp in a decade next Wednesday at their Dove Valley complex.

On the same day, the Seahawks begin their preparation for the 2022 National Football League season some 1,300 miles from Denver in the Seattle suburb of Renton.

Russell Wilson is the drawing card here—just as Peyton Manning was in 2012. The focus in Seattle, at least a large part of it, is on Drew Lock.

The rabid throng that descends on UCHealth Training Center in Centennial between July 27 and August 11 will be seeking confirmation that Wilson’s arrival indeed is the second coming of Manning, who produced two trips to the Super Bowl in four seasons.

Beyond that, they should be watching to see if Albert Okwuegbunam, a fourth-round draft choice in 2020 from Missouri; Greg Dulcich, this year’s third-round pick from UCLA; or one of the other lesser candidates emerges as the successor to Noah Fant as starting tight end.

And, as much fun as an offense featuring Russell Wilson throwing and scrambling is expected to be, they ought to look closely at the run-stopping inside linebacker positions on defense. 

Josey Jewell, whom general manager George Paton has called “the glue” of the Broncos’ defense on several occasions, and free agent signee Alex Singleton, who led the Philadelphia Eagles in tackles last season, are first on the depth chart at the two spots.  

Who steps up behind them will determine the team’s real strength here (last year, depth was sorely needed because of injuries to Jewell and the now-departed Alexander Johnson early in the season).

Meanwhile, preseason press in the Pacific Northwest reads a lot like it did in Denver this time last year: Is Drew Lock starting-quarterback material?

Instead of Teddy Bridgewater, Lock’s competition this summer is a journeyman named Geno Smith. Drafted in the second round from West Virginia, Smith started 29 games for the New York Jets in 2013-14 but has started only five times since, while bouncing from the Jets to the Giants, then the Chargers and finally, the Seahawks.

Still, there are many Seahawks followers who think Smith should be the starter, or at least expect him to be, when Seattle hosts the return of Russell Wilson in enemy orange and blue September 12 (barring a trade with the 49ers for Jimmy Garoppolo). 

Count me among those who disagree.

Drew Lock was never going to be Denver’s long-term answer under center. But for the very reasons that’s so, he’s a prime candidate to prove the “change of scenery” principle.

Lock will benefit from a new coach, enthusiastic Pete Carroll; a new system, one that emphasizes down-field passing (including exploiting his former Broncos teammate Fant in ways Vic Fangio and Pat Shurmur never did); and, most of all, stepping out of the suffocating shadows of John Elway and Peyton Manning.

I call trying to succeed a legend the “Phil Bengtson Phenomenon.” Bengtson followed Vince Lombardi in Green Bay in 1968, and never measured up.  

Better to be a successor after the successor, which is what Russell Wilson is in Denver.

Yes, Drew Lock is succeeding a legend of sorts in Seattle. But Russell Wilson did not go out a champion, as Elway did in Super Bowl XXXIII or as Manning concluded his illustrious career following the 2015 season. Geno Smith actually started three games for the Seahawks last year as Wilson sat, injured.

Some will point out, correctly, that Lock wasn’t the first guy to try to fill Manning’s and Elway’s shoes. But a corollary to the Bengtson Phenomenon is that nobody is good enough unless they’re at least as good. Wilson may prove to be.

I won’t be shocked if Drew Lock starts against the Broncos in the regular-season opener on Monday Night Football. Nor will I be surprised if he remains Seattle’s first-string quarterback all season and puts up numbers that leave some in Denver asking, “Where was that the last two years?” Time, of course, will tell.

Finally, as the NFL returns to active prominence, we find Von Miller, the beloved ex-Bronco and recent Super Bowl champion with Los Angeles, suiting up for the Buffalo Bills, who start their summer training camp three days before the Broncos, on Sunday.

While Miller won’t be at Dove Valley next week, what the Broncos reaped in return will be.

Along with that tight end, Dulcich, who was selected with the third-round pick Denver got for Miller, Broncomaniacs will be able to study edge rusher Nik Bonitto from Oklahoma, who was chosen with the second-round choice the Rams also sent Denver to “rent” Von through their successful Super Bowl run.

If Dulcich and Bonitto make significant contributions in the coming season, trading Miller might not look so bad to those who objected last year.

And, if Russell Wilson conquers the “Phil Bengtson Phenomenon,”  George Paton will be the NFL’s General Manager of the Year. 

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.