AFTER SEA­SON, IT’S BACK TO SQUARE ONE AT QB

As the 2016 sea­son wraps up, the Bron­cos’ start­ing quar­ter­back job for 2017 is up for grabs

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Groke

The Pey­ton Man­ning era in Den­ver started when he stepped onto the field at Valor Chris­tian High School in March 2012, just one week after sign­ing a mam­moth con­tract to quar­ter­back the Bron­cos. He went to work im­me­di­ately, tim­ing passes with Eric Decker and Julius Thomas and stream­lin­ing snaps with cen­ter J.D. Wal­ton.

With Man­ning, the peck­ing or­der was clear. He was on top. But nearly 10 months after Man­ning re­tired, the next era of Bron­cos quar­ter­backs is still very much un­cer­tain.

Trevor Siemian, a first-year starter wrap­ping up his sec­ond NFL sea­son, will be the starter Sun­day for the Bron­cos in a mostly mean­ing­less game against Oak­land. Mean­ing­less for the Bron­cos, be­cause they won’t be in the play­offs. But not mean­ing­less for their quar­ter­backs, who are still try­ing to im­press.

Pax­ton Lynch, a rookie from Mem­phis in whom the Bron­cos in­vested a first-round draft pick, will prob­a­bly play the sec­ond half of Sun­day’s sea­son fi­nale, ac­cord­ing to coach Gary Ku­biak. The Bron­cos want Siemian to get past a poor per­for­mance last week­end at Kansas City and re­gain his con­fi­dence head­ing into the off­sea­son. And they want Lynch to get more game ex­pe­ri­ence.

Nearly one full sea­son into the post-Pey­ton time­line, the Bron­cos are still de­cid­ing on a quar­ter­back. They are back to square one, about to en­ter an off­sea­son still un­sure who will be their start­ing quar­ter­back next sea­son.

“They are two dif­fer­ent quar­ter­backs,” wide re­ceiver De­mary­ius Thomas said of Siemian and Lynch. “Both are young, ba­si­cally rook­ies in their ca­reer. Both of them have the po­ten­tial to com­pete at the high­est level. The ceil­ing is high for both of them. It’s go­ing to be tough be­cause both of them can be po­ten­tial starters.”

The most press­ing ques­tion the Bron­cos asked them­selves after tak­ing down Carolina to win Su­per Bowl 50 last sea­son was: Who will play quar­ter­back in the 2016 sea­son? The ques­tion re­mains the

same head­ing into 2017.

Siemian is 7-6 as a starter this sea­son after miss­ing two games be­cause of in­juries. The sev­en­thround pick in the 2015 draft was a third-string backup as a rookie last sea­son, be­hind Man­ning and Brock Osweiler, and has av­er­aged 245.8 yards pass­ing per game this sea­son. That ranks 19th in the NFL, one slot higher than Dal­las rookie Dak Prescott and one slot lower than Chicago jour­ney­man Matt Barkley.

But Siemian re­mains some­what of a mys­tery. A Swiss cheese of­fen­sive line that has al­lowed 97 quar­ter­back hits, eighth-most in the NFL, has put pres­sure on Siemian. And a dis- ap­pear­ing run­ning game that av­er­aged only 46.3 yards per game in De­cem­ber has led to the Den­ver of­fense grind­ing to a halt. All of which makes as­sess­ing Siemian some­what dif­fi­cult. Even the wide re­ceivers are still cu­ri­ous who will be on the pass­ing end of their catches next sea­son.

“One thing I am go­ing to try to do in the off­sea­son is I’m go­ing to try to host guys out of Hous­ton,” Em­manuel San­ders said. “I’m go­ing to try to host Pax­ton and Trevor out there and get the re­ceivers out there to do what we do. I’ll prob­a­bly do that about two weeks prior to OTAs, to get that ca­ma­raderie go­ing.”

While Siemian did not set­tle the quar­ter­back de­bate this sea­son, nei­ther did Lynch. The last time the Bron­cos had a rookie quar­ter­back start a fi­nal mean­ing­less reg­u­lar-sea­son game was in 2010. And in that game, they let Tim Te­bow play the full four quar­ters. As a first-round draft pick, they knew, for the most part, Te­bow would get a shot to start at some point the fol­low­ing sea­son.

Lynch strug­gled in 2½ games he played this sea­son, com­plet­ing 59 per­cent of his passes and av­er­ag­ing 163.5 yards pass­ing per game in two starts but look­ing un­sure of him­self at times.

So con­sider Sun­day’s sea­son fi­nale an­other quar­ter­back try­out.

“You’re eval­u­at­ing a lot of things,” Ku­biak said. “Ob­vi­ously you have game film. I’m see­ing a guy ev­ery day, how he prac­tices, how he pre­pares and how he does things.

“There are a lot of things that go into eval­u­at­ing guys — whether or not you think they can be a great player for many years and be con­sis­tent as a pro.”

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Trevor Siemian, a sev­en­thround pick in the 2015 draft, is 7-6 as a starter this sea­son.

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Pax­ton Lynch, a rookie from Mem­phis and first-round pick, is 1-1 as a starter this sea­son.

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