ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are things the Denver Broncos will need a lot more of from their revamped offense during the upcoming season. Touchdowns, for starters.
And there are things they won't need as much of, such as birthday candles. Because whenever the NFL begins training camp, the Broncos' offense is expected to be one of the youngest groups in the league.
It's so young that wide receiver Courtland Sutton, 24, is suddenly the grizzled veteran among skill players. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, hired in January, will be the Broncos' fifth playcaller since the start of the 2016 season. He finds himself teaching a group mostly in the early stages of their NFL careers. They will have to fight off growing pains if the Broncos are going to reenter the postseason conversation.
"The roles have transformed in a way," Sutton said. " ... if we get into a situation where [quarterback] Drew [Lock] and everyone else in the offense gets comfortable ... then we know what we're supposed to do, then it becomes pretty much an unguardable situation to where coach Shurmur is obviously going to call the best play for us to go and be successful. Drew understanding the offense and the rest of the guys on the offense understanding the offense ... we can run any type of check that we need to be able to get the ball to the right spot for the defense that we're going against."
The Broncos wandered into the miss-the-playoffs wilderness when quarterback Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season. Since Manning is now eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2021, that playoff drought has lasted four seasons and counting.
The Broncos have tinkered with the offense the past four seasons, with little fixes here and there. This is different, as they have pushed the chips in on 23-year-old Lock at quarterback in an offense that, in certain formations, will have six starters taken in the last two drafts.
In a three-wide-receiver set with Sutton and rookies Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, as well as rookie Lloyd Cushenberry III at center, the average age of the Broncos' offense will be 24 years old. Hamler, who won't turn 21 until July, is the youngest, with fourth-year left tackle Garett Bolles, 28, beating out right tackle Ja'Wuan James as the oldest starter by a month.
"Bottom line is we've struggled on offense the last three years," Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway said earlier this offseason. " ... To be able to compete, to be successful, we had to give Drew some support, add speed, do those things ... now our job is to develop those guys."
It means plenty of teachable moments are coming after a completely virtual offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic. The closest thing resembling this over the past decade came in 2011, when the offseason was erased because of the owners' lockout, as a collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association wasn't signed until late July -- days before training camp opened.
Shurmur said the truncated schedule would mean less trial-and-error work once the Broncos are cleared to practice with coaches being as efficient as possible when the team takes the field.
"I would be less concerned if we were able to practice and I'd have a better feel for the players," Shurmur said. "... I do feel with the amount of practice time that you have during training camp, we'll get a feel for what they can and cannot do. We'll try to -- what you don't have the benefit of, and we've all done this as coaches, there's not a lot of play tryout. You don't have the ability to run a bunch of things that you would not choose to run in games. That's where the work behind the scenes is going to be very important."
Shurmur said off-site work Lock has done with teammates could help. Lock has led a group of as many as 20 players through informal workouts in recent weeks in the Denver area.
While the coaches cannot participate in any way, some of Lock's teammates have said he has been forceful in working through playbook concepts the team covered in its virtual meetings. For his part, Lock has said he has learned the new offense "10 times faster" than he was able to learn the Broncos' offense last season as a rookie.
"It's going to be fun," Shurmur said. " ... We as coaches, we're really, really excited to get the players on the field and work with them when we come back here in training camp."