ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—Jay Z’s “Onto the Next One” blared over the loudspeaker as players took the field for the first day of the Denver Broncos’ 2016 training camp. That certainly wasn’t by accident.
In fact, everywhere you looked at the UC Health Training Center on Thursday, things seemed to be centered on one unified message: even though it ended in championship glory, last year is in the past. These Broncos are moving on.
“We all understand that’s over, it’s gone,” head coach Gary Kubiak said. “This is a new group. There’s going to be some new leaders, there’s going to be some new people, it’s going to have a new identity, and we don’t know what that identity is going to be yet. We’re working on it each day.”
This was the first time since 2011 the Denver Broncos have started training camp without five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning on their roster. Transitioning away from him is certainly at or near the top on the list of priorities for these 2016 Broncos.
So, as camp got underway, all eyes were on the three men vying to replace the future Hall-of-Famer: veteran Mark Sanchez, second-year gunslinger Trevor Siemian, and first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch.
As expected, Sanchez got the first shot with the Broncos’ first teamers. He looked good throughout practice, showcasing a quick release and better comfort with the Broncos’ offensive system.
“It was a great start,” Sanchez said. “But it’s only a start. So, we’ve got a long way to go. It’s fun to get back out there and get moving around and throw it around a little bit.”
Kubiak had said he was looking forward to seeing how Sanchez and Siemian, the two more-experienced quarterbacks in the group, came back from their summer break. He seemed impressed.
“I saw good things,” Kubiak said. “I thought Mark was very sharp in practice. You know, I’ve gotta go back and watch film, but he just looked confident. Players know — smart players –they know exactly what’s coming the first day. They’ve looked at the scripts. They know what’s going on in practice. You can see the difference in their preparation. All of the sudden, a young kid comes out here and their mind starts wandering and they get a little stage fright, so to speak. But, I liked how our guys looked today. I liked the way they bounced around.”
That “young kid” Kubiak not-so-subtly took a dig at was rookie Paxton Lynch. The No. 26 overall pick flashed his first-round caliber arm and showed nice touch at times. He also struggled to complete long passes down the field and seemed to be a step behind both Sanchez and Siemian in understanding of the playbook and Kubiak’s offensive system.
However, Siemian had his own struggles. While he showed tremendous zip and accuracy on short in-cutting routes and passes within 10-yards of the line of scrimmage, he struggled with just about everything else. Deep passes sailed on him frequently and he was the first of the group to throw an interception when cornerback Lorenzo Doss stepped in front of a quick dump-off thrown in the flat.
“I think we’re trying to get better every day, physically, mentally,” Siemian said. “I’ve got a lot of room to grow in both areas, so I’m just trying to focus in one or two areas every day, shore those up and get a little better.”
Sanchez is the clear leader in the Broncos’ quest to replace Peyton Manning, which shouldn’t come as much surprise considering he’s got plenty of experience taking over for legendary quarterbacks.
“I had the pleasure of being a rookie after Brett Favre left New York, and now this is another time you follow a legend,” Sanchez said. “Those two guys are rarefied air. You never want to be somebody else. You’ve got to be yourself.”
Competitions like the Broncos’ can create a negative energy in the quarterback room or bad blood within the position group. However, Sanchez said that’s not the case in the Broncos’ locker room.
“It’s a competitive atmosphere, but it’s a professional atmosphere,” Sanchez said. “There’s no shying away from helping a guy, at least in my opinion. I have no problem imparting any kind of wisdom or a situation I’ve been in. If I can help one of the other guys, I have no problem with that. I’m not holding anything back thinking I need this advantage or something. That’s just not really my deal. We’re all playing for each other. We’re rooting for each other and we want to win. The best player will play. We’re just going to try and help this team win.”