Five questions new Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur must answer

Pat Shurmur is tasked with revitalizing a Broncos' offense that's been stagnant for several seasons. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Pat Shurmur was handed the tallest of orders when he was hired as the Denver Broncos' offensive coordinator.

The Broncos finished 28th or worse in the league last season in scoring, total offense, passing yards per game, first downs, third-down conversions and red zone offense. They scored 16 or fewer points in nine games, going 2-7 in those games.

Shurmur's team faces one of the most extensive to-do lists of any team in the league. Oh, and because of a global pandemic the Broncos, like all businesses, have had to adjust how they do things. Therefore, the players might not do any significant on-field work until they are cleared to have a training camp later this summer.

As the Broncos work through their virtual meetings, here are the five biggest questions for Shurmur to answer:

Bottom line, how will the Broncos score more points?

Whatever Shurmur does will have to be done with one of the youngest skill-position groups in the league in an abbreviated offseason. After a major roster overhaul on offense, wide receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Phillip Lindsay, each entering their third season, are suddenly the grizzled souls among the front-line, skill-position players.

The Broncos have to have constructed their youth movement wisely and Shurmur has to move those young guys through the learning curve fast enough to force defensive coordinators to defend the intermediate and deep areas of the field in the passing game. Opponents didn't believe that the Broncos could consistently push the ball down the field in the passing game last season, which showed in how they lined up against the Broncos' offense.

They knew where the ball was going and where it wasn't.

Two of the biggest indicators that the Broncos didn't stress defenses enough were tepid offensive efficiency numbers (No. 23 in the league) and Emmanuel Sanders finishing second on the team in receptions last year despite being traded midseason.

Is Drew Lock ready for all of this?

Lock got the kind of roster commitment this offseason from the Broncos' decision-makers that the previous six post-Peyton Manning starting quarterbacks never received. The Broncos devoted considerable resources in free agency and the draft to surround Lock with more talent.

The reason, John Elway has said, was that Lock showed he was worthy of that commitment in his five starts to end last season. This week, coach Vic Fangio was asked about Lock's progress in the team's virtual offseason program.

"I think he's done a great job learning the new offense," Fangio said. "... He's ready to go. He's chomping at the bit and all is good on that front right now."

A review of game video showed that Lock faced extra rushers on fewer than a third of his pass attempts last season because defenses were content to sit back and make him look at coverage to test his patience. He figures to get pressured more in the upcoming season, or at least face more four-man pressures with greater variety within them, and his readiness to deal with that will dictate how his season goes.

Who is the left tackle?

The Broncos keep saying the left tackle job is open to competition, but Garett Bolles keeps starting games -- he hasn’t missed a start in three seasons. Elijah Wilkinson had foot surgery in recent weeks, so he might be limited when the Broncos get back on the field.

But the Broncos didn't select a tackle in the draft nor did they look for one in free agency or by trade. Bolles has been flagged 46 times in 48 career games, including penalties that were declined, and has led the league in holding penalties in each of his three NFL seasons.

But many inside the Broncos' complex brought up that Bolles had just one holding penalty in Lock's five starts. So he still has to be considered the guy right now. And he is now in a contract year since the Broncos didn't activate his fifth-year option.

Who is WR2?

Sutton had 58 more targets last season than the No. 2 player and 72 more than the No. 2 wide receiver. While the Broncos weren't the only team with this type of discrepancy -- the Saints targeted Michael Thomas 88 more times than their next-most-targeted player -- they'll need a better dispersal for Sutton to see fewer double-teams.

Tight end Noah Fant -- who made an impact despite a somewhat-limited route tree last season -- has to make a significant second-year jump and rookies Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler will have to overcome an abbreviated offseason to emerge as immediate threats.

Only three receivers in team history have finished with more than 40 catches in their rookie seasons.

How do Lindsay and Melvin Gordon fit?

Shurmur has traditionally been a one-back guy as a playcaller and has also said the back who has the most impact in the passing game would be the kind of "full runner" he's looking to have.

That would seem to lean toward Gordon, but Lindsay added a few pounds this offseason and believes he can offer more in the passing game -- he has had 35 receptions in each of his two seasons. Lindsay is explosive enough that Shurmur might have to look at more sets with both backs in the formation, but Lindsay will not be able to lead the team in carries and rushing touchdowns again without a fight.