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.
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