Bron­cos pin their hopes on Lynch

Siemian out with an in­jured foot, so rookie QB gets another shot

The Denver Post - - NFL SUNDAY - By Nicki Jhab­vala

Pax­ton Lynch tried. He re­ally did. But he couldn’t hide the wide grin. The Bron­cos’ rookie quar­ter­back knew early last week there was a good chance he would be called upon to start Sun­day at Jack­sonville, and his ex­cite­ment was ob­vi­ous.

Cor­nered by a crowd of re­porters at his locker, Lynch said he felt con­fi­dent. He said he was ready for a redo af­ter his first start, against the Fal­cons in Den­ver in Week 5, didn’t go as he had hoped.

He said he was ea­ger to earn his first win, and boy, do the Bron­cos need him to get one.

Sun­day, Lynch will take the reins of the of­fense as the Bron­cos hit a crit­i­cal point in their sea­son. Af­ter last week­end’s over­time loss to the Chiefs — the one that left Trevor Siemian with a sprained left foot — Den­ver (7-4) sits in sev­enth place in the AFC play­off race.

Room for er­ror has been elim­i­nated. The time for Lynch to learn the of­fense, to be­come com­fort­able with the ver­biage and schemes, to get ad­justed to the speed of the NFL game, ended last week.

“It seems like two years ago when he played the last game,” Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak said with a laugh. “I’m just watch­ing him grow and come along as a player. It’s Game 12, and those young guys have been a part of it for a long time. He’s been good. He is con­fi­dent. I’m watch­ing him work and I thought his prac­tice (Fri­day) was re­ally good, very fo­cused.”

Lynch made his NFL de­but in the sec­ond half of the Bron­cos’ win over Tampa Bay in

Week 4, throw­ing for 170 yards and a touch­down in place of an in­jured Siemian. Lynch made his first start the next week, against At­lanta, but failed to repli­cate the suc­cess. He threw an in­ter­cep­tion and was sacked six times as the Bron­cos lost for the first time this sea­son.

Im­prove­ment is harder to gauge with lim­ited game rep­e­ti­tions and closed prac­tices. But the Bron­cos say their first-round draft pick from Mem­phis keeps pro­gress­ing.

“He’s like any new player in any team’s of­fense. You’re see­ing growth ev­ery day,” quar­ter­backs coach Greg Knapp said of Lynch. “You’re see­ing im­prove­ment each and ev­ery day, so it’s ex­cit­ing to see his de­vel­op­ment. He’s see­ing the de­fense a bit bet- ter. He’s un­der­stand­ing de­fen­sive schemes, from blitz pick­ups to cov­er­age in­di­ca­tors. And that’s good, be­cause some­times that’s aw­fully hard for a rookie to get through that first year, with not just mas­ter­ing your side of the ball, but also learn­ing some de­fense. He’s done a good job with that.”

The Bron­cos moved up in the draft to se­lect Lynch, know­ing his arm strength and abil­ity to scram­ble would be as­sets in Ku­biak’s of­fense. Although their play­book doesn’t change with who­ever is play­ing quar­ter­back, the play calls Sun­day could be geared more to­ward Lynch’s strengths — es­pe­cially his mo­bil­ity.

“I think they have tried to make it more com­fort­able for me, moved the pocket and let me run around a lit­tle bit,” Lynch said. “We also have some of their stuff with the drop-backs and throw­ing it down the field.”

The tran­si­tion for any rookie quar­ter­back can be dif­fi­cult, but es­pe­cially one com­ing from Mem­phis’ spread of­fense, where Lynch did not op­er­ate un­der cen­ter.

In train­ing camp and the pre­sea­son, Den­ver coaches had Lynch work on the fun­da­men­tals. Foot­work was a fo­cus. Learn­ing the ver­biage of the play­book was one too. Same with sim­ply tran­si­tion­ing to taking snaps un­der cen­ter.

“When I first got here, it was weird be­cause I was in the gun so much,” Lynch said. “But like ev­ery­thing, the more that you get rep­e­ti­tion of it, the more com­fort­able you feel. You watch your­self on film and you cor­rect it. It just gets eas­ier.”

But ap­ply­ing the teach­ings in the class­room to the field would come only with time and rep­e­ti­tion. “There’s no re­place­ment for ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Austin Davis, the Bron­cos’ third-string quar­ter­back. “You have to go through it. He’s def­i­nitely get­ting bet­ter ev­ery week. But the only thing that will make him bet­ter now is play­ing.”

Bron­cos rookie Pax­ton Lynch warms up for his first NFL start Oct. 9 against At­lanta, a 23-16 loss. He hopes his next start has a dif­fer­ent out­come.

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