ALL EYES ON QBS WHEN BRON­COS OPEN CAMP»

Mile-high stakes at­tached to this sum­mer’s Siemian-lynch bat­tle for start­ing QB job

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nicki Jhab­vala

A week be­fore rook­ies were to re­port for Bron­cos train­ing camp, gen­eral man­ager John El­way was on a golf course at Lake Ta­hoe for the Amer­i­can Cen­tury Cham­pi­onship, a celebrity tour­na­ment where he has been a reg­u­lar for years.

It was one of his fi­nal get­aways be­fore foot­ball re­sumed at Dove Val­ley and fo­cus shifted back to the Bron­cos. But even at Lake Ta­hoe, El­way couldn’t es­cape the ques­tion­ing. Be­fore he hit the green, he was asked about his quar­ter­backs. On the green, he was asked about his quar­ter­backs. As he rode with Joe Theis­mann, El­way re­counted on ra­dio re­cently, con­ver­sa­tion trailed back to the Bron­cos and their QB quandary that has the NFL world on edge.

For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive sum­mer, the Bron­cos are hold­ing an open com­pe­ti­tion to find their guy. Last sum­mer, Trevor Siemian, a sev­enth-round draft pick from North­west­ern, par­layed a year of watch­ing Pey­ton Man­ning from the side­line into one as his suc­ces­sor, beat­ing out vet­eran Mark Sanchez in train­ing camp and pre­sea­son to earn the job.

In Jan­uary, when coach Gary Ku­biak re­signed and the Bron­cos’ of­fen­sive staff was over­hauled, it was made clear that Siemian’s hold on the start­ing job wouldn’t stick. To keep it, he would have to ward off Pax­ton Lynch, the first-round pick the Bron­cos traded up to draft in 2016. Chad Kelly, the No. 253 pick in the 2017 draft and new coach Vance Joseph’s fa­vorite quar­ter­back in that draft, is ex­pected to spend much of his first NFL sea­son learn­ing and ob­serv­ing be­fore vy­ing for the start­ing job.

So be­gins Round 2, with new coaches, a new scheme and new cri­te­ria.

“It’s go­ing to be won on the foot­ball field,” Joseph said. “It’s go­ing to be won in the games in the pre­sea­son. That’s where eval­u­a­tion starts, in my opin­ion.”

The best quar­ter­back will win the job, Joseph and El­way have said. But the com­pe­ti­tion is about more than 2017. The team’s fu­ture at the po­si­tion, and the fu­tures of both play­ers in­volved, hinge on the se­lec­tion. If Siemian is named the starter, do the Bron­cos’ shelve a first-round pick for an­other year? Would a third QB com­pe­ti­tion be held in 2018 if so?

If Lynch gets the nod, do they keep Siemian be­cause he has ex­pe­ri­ence and is due only $615,000 in salary? Or do they try to trade him?

The stakes are high as the Bron­cos try to bounce back from their first play­off ab­sence since 2010 and con­tinue to search for the quar­ter­back they can “hang our hat on for a long, long time,” as El­way said in March.

To be­gin the process, the Bron­cos brought back of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Mccoy to im­ple­ment a sys­tem tai­lored to both quar­ter­backs, who dif­fer in size, style and strengths. Dur­ing his pre­vi­ous stint as Den­ver’s co­or­di­na­tor, from 2009-12, Mccoy al­tered his scheme to fit three starters, from Kyle Or­ton to Tim Te­bow to Man­ning. He did it for them and he can do it for Siemian and Lynch, the think­ing goes.

“I feel like it fits more of how I play,” Lynch said of Mccoy’s of­fense. “I’m more com­fort­able in it and there are a lit­tle bit more sim­i­lar­i­ties to what I did at Mem­phis com­pared to what I had to do last year. Ob­vi­ously, at prac­tice we’ve got­ten into the gun a lit­tle more than last year, which is more com­fort­able to me be­cause I’ve been do­ing it for so long.”

The play­book also suits the skills of Siemian, who had three 300-yard pass­ing games and played with a bum left shoul­der for most of last sea­son. While not flashy, Siemian is the more ex­pe­ri­enced quar­ter­back of the two af­ter 14 starts and has poise and de­ci­sion-mak­ing skills that can’t al­ways be taught.

“I think I did some things I can build on last year and there are some things I want to do bet­ter,” Siemian said. “For me, I’m just fo­cused on im­prov­ing and I think if I can take care of things on my end, then ev­ery­thing will work out.”

This off­sea­son, the Bron­cos — on pa­per — up­graded many facets of the of­fense to re­vi­tal­ize the en­tire unit and help their quar­ter­backs.

The line­men now fea­ture more mus­cle from guard Ron Leary and tack­les Mene­lik Wat­son and Garett Bolles. The run­ning game wel­comed the ar­rival of for­mer AFC West ri­val Ja­maal Charles and the re­turn of a healthy C.J. An­der­son. The tight end room ex­panded with the ad­di­tion of rookie Jake Butt, a Mackey Award win­ner from Michi­gan. And the al­ready lengthy list of wide re­ceivers that in­cludes two Pro Bowlers, De­mary­ius Thomas and Em­manuel San­ders, grew with speedy rook­ies Car­los Hen­der­son and Isa­iah Mcken­zie.

“I try to give that quar­ter­back the best chance to be suc­cess­ful, and that’s get­ting him in the right sys­tem that fits him the best,” El­way said this month on “The Dan Pa­trick Show.” “Not nec­es­sar­ily the one that a coach has or has run his whole life, but also to be able to take ad­van­tage of what the quar­ter­back does best.

“Now, you want to be able to find the most tal­ented quar­ter­back you can and take ad­van­tage of his tal­ents. But I think quar­ter­backs in this league — to be suc­cess­ful — have to be in sit­u­a­tions to where they’re given and it’s the best op­por­tu­nity for them to suc­ceed, and that’s do­ing what they do best.”

Siemian said last week the slate is clean for both quar­ter­backs and that he’s ap­proach­ing it that way. He may be helped some by the ex­pe­ri­ences of last sum­mer and last sea­son, but the race has changed this year. More is at stake than sim­ply find­ing the Week 1 starter.

Al­though each day of train­ing camp will be weighed care­fully, Joseph has cau­tioned that he’s oper­at­ing with­out a dead­line; he will call it off when he sees a clear sep­a­ra­tion be­tween Siemian and Lynch. That may hap­pen af­ter two pre­sea­son games. It may re­quire all four.

“You have to be pa­tient with the guys,” Joseph said. “You have to not take eval­u­a­tion as a daily deal, but as a col­lec­tive, full eval­u­a­tion, as far as time. It can’t be Monday he’s bet­ter; Tues­day, he’s bet­ter. It has to be a col­lec­tive re­sult as far as who was more con­sis­tent over time.”

“I feel like it fits more of how I play. I’m more com­fort­able in it and there are a lit­tle bit more sim­i­lar­i­ties to what I did at Mem­phis com­pared to what I had to do last year. Ob­vi­ously, at prac­tice we’ve got­ten into the gun a lit­tle more than last year, which is more com­fort­able to me be­cause I’ve been do­ing it for so long.” Pax­ton Lynch, Bron­cos quar­ter­back

“I think I did some things I can build on last year and there are some things I want to do bet­ter. For me, I’m just fo­cused on im­prov­ing and I think if I can take care of things on my end, then ev­ery­thing will work out.” Trevor Siemian, Bron­cos quar­ter­back

Photos by Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos quar­ter­backs Trevor Siemian, left, and Pax­ton Lynch had a huge gap in ex­pec­ta­tions when they be­came team­mates. Siemian, from North­west­ern, was a sev­en­thround pick in the 2015 draft. Lynch, from Mem­phis, was a first-round pick in the 2016 draft. But Siemian made 14 starts last year, Lynch two.

John Leyba, Den­ver Post file

Trevor Siemian passed for 3,401 yards and 18 touch­downs last sea­son in 14 games, all starts.

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