Steve Atwater admitted on Broncos Country Tonight Tuesday that he may have oversold some confidence in the Broncos in the past, but this year his optimism is genuine.
“Couple years ago when I said we were going 16-0, I may have been a little bit biased,” he laughed. “But now, genuinely, this is the most excited I’ve been.”
Between the new players, the veterans, the coaches and the competition at so many key positions, Atwater believes the team is well-poised for success.
“They are pushing each other. They have great chemistry. They like being around each other with the right kinds of attitudes,” he added. “I think we’re in for a treat this season.”
Playing well is one thing. Winning games is another thing. Making the playoffs is something different altogether.
But Atwater thinks this team definitely has that potential.
“Right now I say yes,” he said. “The biggest thing is can they do this under the pressure of playing a real game?”
Atwater says the test will be if the younger guys - like Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Michael Ojemudia, Albert Okwuegbunam - can play at a high level during games the way they have at training camp. But he thinks even If they don’t right away, they will get there this season.
“We’ve got great leadership on both sides of the ball,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful thing. The ceiling is high.”
A big part of that is the quarterback.
“Drew Lock has a rifle,” Atwater said. “At this stage in training camp last year, I don’t think this many passes were completed or that the offense looked this crisp.”
In my three days at camp, I've been really impressed with Drew Lock's overall accuracy. Throwing darts.— RK (@RyanKoenigsberg) August 24, 2020
Atwater admitted that the second team doesn’t look as good as the first team on offense, but “that first O, man...they look really good.”
Benjamin Allbright even admitted he has some thoughts of playoffs with this Broncos squad.
“I have a cautious optimism about this team,” Allbright said. “I don’t know if they take away the division from Kansas City but they look like a playoff-caliber team to me.”
Atwater noted that the defense has some ballers too, and when Allbright called the Front 7 “legit,” the safety swooned:
“Ah man, legit!”
Moving Justin Hollins inside?
The Hall-of-Fame safety really likes the fact that Justin Hollins will likely be moving to inside linebacker with Todd Davis out for a few weeks and Justin Strnad out for the season.
“I like him more on the inside than I do playing on the outside,” Atwater said, acknowledging that that’s a little crazy for his long body. “I just saw something in him when he was in that middle. A little more physical, a little more active. I’m looking forward to seeing him develop.”
Atwater pointed out that on the outside, Hollins wasn’t the third edge rusher so he’s likely to get more playing time on the inside as well.
“At the inside position there’s an opportunity, even if it’s on third downs because he can cover tight ends or the backside of the backfield really well,” Atwater said. “I just really think that’s a better fit for him.”
Allbright added that with his long frame, Hollins in the middle on a Cover 4 or Cover 2 would put him in the middle zone, preventing the “bucket throw to the post because you can’t get it over him.”
Given that tight ends are such an important part of offenses now, Atwater added that safeties aren’t usually big enough to be as effective, but an athletic linebacker could have a better shot.
Is beating the Chiefs a mental hurdle?
Ryan Edwards mentioned a quote from Malik Reed last week where he said “luckily” Broncos get to play the Chiefs twice “so we have two chances to knock them off” and Atwater heartily agreed.
“You always want to play the good teams because they give you a gauge of where you are,” he said. “Right now, KC is the team to beat. Until we prove we can play with them and beat them, we still got some more work to do.”
In a hilarious slip, Atwater noted that fortunately “we’ll be able to score points this year” before amending it to “more points this year.”
But it was a valid point either way.
With a defense that will be even stronger than last year now that Bradley Chubb is back and Jurrell Casey has been added into the mix, Atwater is bullish on this team.
And he doesn’t think the Broncos have it “in their heads” now that they can’t beat the reigning Super Bowl champs.
“The way this team is built, they’ll be able to weather storms, handle adversity and bounce back from it,” he said. “If we drop one, that won’t have an impact the next time we play them.”
How good is this secondary?
Ryan Edwards noted his confidence has been building for the Broncos’ secondary based on what he’s seen in camp, and Atwater reiterated that sentiment.
“Those guys are balling out there,” he noted.
With the past success A.J. Bouyé and Bryce Callahan have had as corners, along with Fangio’s scheme to incorporate disguise in every facet, Atwater believes the Denver secondary is back.
“It’s going to be interception, touchdown, bam!”