QUAR­TER­BACKS SIEMIAN, LYNCH – AND OTH­ERS? – UN­DER MI­CRO­SCOPE

The Bron­cos’ new coach is do­ing his best to stay ahead of the learn­ing curve on the job.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nicki Jhab­vala

No con­ver­sa­tion about the Bron­cos’ of­fense can be­gin with­out talk of the quar­ter­backs — Trevor Siemian and Pax­ton Lynch, and their short­list of “maybes.”

phoenix» Vance Joseph is one of the new guys, sit­ting at a round ta­ble in a ball­room at the posh Ari­zona Bilt­more ho­tel, star­ing out into a room dot­ted by his fel­low AFC coaches. Some hold more than a decade of head coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Many have made this trek to the an­nual league meet­ing for years. Most al­ready know the odd to-do list that comes with be­ing a new NFL head coach.

Joseph is still learn­ing. Three months into his ten­ure as the Bron­cos’ head coach, his early days have been con­sumed with build­ing a staff, re­view­ing sched­ul­ing, even choos­ing paint colors and car­pet pat­terns.

“Those things I had no idea fell on my plate,” he said with a wide smile. “I don’t care. I just want to coach foot­ball.”

In­side the walls of the Bron­cos’ head­quar­ters, a new de­sign has joined the new regime. On the field, a new vi­sion is un­fold­ing, one step, one sign­ing, one player visit at a time.

At the AFC coaches break­fast Tuesday, Joseph un­veiled more de­tails of his broad plan for the Bron­cos, which is founded on the short­com­ings of the team last sea­son and bol­stered by his ex­pec­ta­tions of what the new ar­rivals — play­ers and coaches — can do.

“When you build a sys­tem of­fen­sively or de­fen­sively, you kind of build a big room and you put all of your tools in­side of it,” Joseph said. He added: “What fits that de­fense? What fits that player? What fits the scheme? So when I say sys­tem, it’s an over­view of what it’s go­ing to look like. In­side of that, you can ad­just very eas­ily.” Take a tour of his early de­signs: The quar­ter­back room. No con­ver­sa­tion about the Bron­cos’ of­fense can be­gin with­out talk of the quar­ter­backs — their cur­rent sta­ble of Trevor Siemian and Pax­ton Lynch, and their short­list of “maybes.” On that lat­ter list is Tony Romo, the oft-in­jured 36-year-old whom Dal­las has not yet re­leased.

“Romo is a non­is­sue,” Joseph said, echo­ing gen­eral man­ager John El­way’s com­ments from a day prior. “He’s un­der con­tract. We haven’t had one meet­ing about Romo. We’ve got th­ese two young guys that we’re fo­cused on.”

And those two couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent in both size and skill set. Siemian, the un­known out of North­west­ern who was drafted with a sev­enth-round com­pen­satory pick in 2015, was, in most re­spects, a rookie last year. He made mis­takes but showed flashes of po­ten­tial with 242.9 pass­ing yards per game, a near-per­fect spi­ral and smarts. Lynch, the first-round pick the Bron­cos traded up to get out of Mem­phis last spring, has a 6-foot-7 frame, a strong arm and the mo­bil­ity to make him a dual threat. Po­ten­tially.

A third quar­ter­back will be brought on for depth and com­pe­ti­tion, but who that will be may sur­prise.

“If it’s go­ing to be a vet­eran, it’s go­ing to be a young vet­eran for us,” Joseph said. “I wouldn’t dis­count draft­ing a young quar­ter­back next month. That’s pos­si­ble. Again, I would fo­cus on those first two. The third is go­ing to fall to us. Whether it is the draft or free agency, that won’t be hard to do.”

The door has not shut com­pletely on Romo, Joseph said. That never has and never will be the Bron­cos’ phi­los­o­phy as they con­sider ev­ery op­tion to get bet­ter. Romo just isn’t one now. The em­pha­sis is on their two quar­ter­backs in-house, and Joseph likes what he sees, es­pe­cially Siemian. De­spite the out­side noise and skep­ti­cism, the tape shows it all.

“He plays with a calm de­meanor,” Joseph said. “He plays with the abil­ity to not turn the ball over. We’re go­ing to play good de­fense in Den­ver. What’s go­ing to help Trevor and Pax­ton is run­ning the foot­ball bet­ter. That’s go­ing to give us a fair box as far as if they play sin­gle­high, we’ve got two re­ceivers out­side that are Pro Bowl-cal­iber guys. Now we’ve got oneon-ones with those cor­ners. Run­ning the foot­ball bet­ter is go­ing to help both quar­ter­backs.”

Den­ver av­er­aged only 92.8 rush­ing yards per game, the 27th-fewest in the league. The Bron­cos couldn’t run con­sis­tently and they couldn’t score early, cre­at­ing deep holes from which they strug­gled to climb out.

Their youth at quar­ter­back drew the eyes of fans and of­ten masked the deeper prob­lems at play that of­ten orig­i­nated in the trenches.

Beef­ing up the lines.

The Bron­cos added more than 1,200 pounds of nec­es­sary weight to the of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive lines in re­cent sign­ings. Four men, each top­ping 300 pounds, will be the cat­a­lysts for jump­start­ing the Bron­cos’ run game and de­fend­ing the ground game.

Ron­ald Leary, a start­ing guard on the Cow­boys’ top-rated line, might be the most crit­i­cal ad­di­tion. Joseph dubbed him the best guard in free agency and the first piece of a teamwide at­ti­tude shift. Menelik Watson, an ath­letic but in­juryrid­dled tackle from Oak­land, was the sec­ond. Find­ing a left tackle — or sim­ply an­other true start­ing tackle — re­mains atop the pri­or­ity list.

“It starts there,” Joseph said. “We have to block bet­ter up front. C.J. (An­der­son) is very ca­pa­ble. Even (Devon­tae) Booker in the last month of the sea­son showed what he can do. So we have two backs that will run down­hill, but we’ve got to block bet­ter up front and we will.”

Gain­ing more pro­duc­tion from the run game may be as im­por­tant as stop­ping the run. Last year, the Bron­cos dropped from No. 3 in de­fend­ing the run (83.6 yards al­lowed per game in 2015) to 28th (130.3 yards).

“Our front-seven me­chan­ics, we’ve got to help those guys with dif­fer­ent looks,” Joseph said. “When you play a cer­tain front all the time and an of­fen­sive foot­ball team has a chance to prac­tice all week — and you show up on Sun­days and it looks the same — they are go­ing to move the ball on you. A com­bi­na­tion of the fre­quency of runs and our front-seven me­chan­ics, we’ve got to get bet­ter there and have more change­ups.”

The hope is that hav­ing Do­mata Peko at nose guard and Zach Kerr at de­fen­sive end will help to stop the leak. The hope, too, is that, as the of­fense re­ceives a makeover, the de­fense will be bet­ter at stop­ping early scores.

“When I watched the film, I no­ticed that. Ev­ery first drive was al­most a touch­down,” Joseph said. “Then they set­tled down and played well. That’s a sys­tem is­sue in my opin­ion as far as what they prac­tice all week — when they show up on Sun­days it’s the same pic­ture. … If you show up with those same looks, guess what? It’s NFL foot­ball. They are go­ing to have some suc­cess no mat­ter how good you are on de­fense. So you have to throw out your curve­balls in the first 15 (plays).”

The locker room. The Bron­cos’ locker room at their prac­tice fa­cil­ity in Dove Val­ley re­ceived a new and shiny in­stall­ment last sea­son. Planted in the mid­dle was an oval case en­shrin­ing the team’s three Lom­bardi Tro­phies. They were re­minders of both feats achieved and goals un­met.

This year, the Bron­cos need an­other locker room ad­di­tion in the wake of Pey­ton Man­ning’s re­tire­ment in 2015 and DeMar­cus Ware’s farewell just weeks ago. There’s a list of can­di­dates but no clear leader on a ros­ter of strong per­son­al­i­ties.

“It’s the quar­ter­back’s job to the be a leader, whether you like it or not or you’re a rookie or not. That comes with your po­si­tion,” Joseph said. “De­fen­sively, we have a num­ber of lead­ers. That en­tire se­condary be­tween (Dar­ian) Stewart, T.J. (Ward) and (Aqib) Talib and Chris (Har­ris), they’re all lead­ers. That part does not con­cern me. That be­ing said, the locker room kind of con­trols how you lead, how you prac­tice, how you play, your per­son­al­ity and your cul­ture. You have to have lead­ers to win in foot­ball.”

An­other off­sea­son quar­ter­back com­pe­ti­tion will suss out the Bron­cos’ next on-field leader and per­haps their pri­mar­ily locker-room voice, too. The rest? Well, just ex­pect change. Ex­pect it of­ten.

This de­sign scheme is fluid.

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian sets up to pass against the Oak­land Raiders at Sports Author­ity Field at Mile High on Jan. 1. Steve Nehf, Den­ver Post file

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Pax­ton Lynch tries to run against the Jaguars on Dec. 4 at EverBank Field in Jack­sonville, Fla. John Leyba, Den­ver Post file

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