ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It was like a mini-game straight out of Madden 2005. Three NFL quarterbacks, two of whom are competing for a starting job, spent about twenty minutes of an OTA practice this week throwing footballs into a trash can.
That’s life as an NFL quarterback in late May.
To be more specific, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian, and rookie free agent Kyle Sloter threw passes into a large empty trash can while a Broncos assistant held the receptacle over his head in various places in the end-zone.
The exercise lit social media ablaze. Still, to the untrained eye, the drill seemed somewhat pointless when it comes to actually determining which of Denver’s two young quarterbacks will ultimately win the job. However, the Broncos’ new head coach disagrees.
“When you’re in the red zone, most of your concepts are back line,” head coach Vance Joseph said. “You want to coach the quarterbacks to put enough pace on the ball with enough height so No. 88 (wide receiver Demaryius Thomas) can go up and catch the ball. That’s a pretty good drill to teach both pace and height of the pass on the back line.”
For the record, Siemian went 4/6 and Lynch went 2/6.
That may lead some to believe that Siemian is somehow well ahead of Lynch. That’s assuming the Broncos coaching staff has even begun to keep score.
As of now, both Siemian, the 24-year-old who started 14 games for the Broncos last season, and Lynch, the second-year gunslinger and former first round pick, are in roughly the same place. They’re both learning.
“Right now, it’s a learning process with a new offense going in,” Joseph said. “Right now, everyone is learning. It is tough to evaluate the quarterbacks when everyone is learning. Sometimes the receivers mistakes can fall back on the quarterback’s mistakes. Right now, everyone is learning. Obviously, in the fall, it would ramp up as far as decision making and who’s playing the best at each position.”
Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is still in the process of teaching the foundation of Denver’s new scheme to both of his young quarterbacks. That teaching process is going to take time. As of today, neither quarterback has looked particularity good. Both looked shaky in Tuesday’s workout, the only one the media was allowed to watch in its entirety.
With that in mind, it’s difficult to asses exactly where things stand at this point in a competition that promises to drag on well into August.
Lynch is the odds-on favorite to win the job.
The team’s first round pick in the 2016 draft, the Memphis alum has every physical gift scouts look for when evaluating quarterbacks. He’s long, tall, athletic, and posses one of the liveliest arms to come out of college in at least the last two years. Broncos’ general manager John Elway still thinks extremely highly of Lynch, whom he traded up eight spots to select.
That investment is a key piece of the argument supporting Lynch. The only quarterback in the modern era to be drafted in the first round and never be given the opportunity to start on a regular basis is former Browns wild man Johnny Manziel. Paxton Lynch has flaws. They are not remotely close to Manziel’s.
However, it’s important to note that he does have flaws. Throughout last season and the beginning of this offseason, Lynch struggled to handle the easy stuff.
He’s an aggressive athlete who looks to take shots down the field as often as possible. He’s looking to make plays. That aggressiveness often forces him into poor decisions. Those poor decisions can result in interceptions.
Of course, it would arguably be more troubling if Siemian and Lynch weren’t making mistakes at this point. Coaches want quarterbacks to take chances in practice. They want quarterbacks to be aggressive. Playing it safe isn’t always the best strategy.
“They’re always encouraged to take chances in practice,” Joseph said. “That’s what practice is for, to kind of find your boundaries as far as your windows being tight or open. That’s part of it. It’s early. It’s seven-on-seven. They’re seeing multiple coverages and multiple concepts they’re in, so it happens from time to time.”
When it comes to Lynch, however, those naturally occurring mistakes are sometimes exacerbated by the issues he has had adjusting to the NFL. He admittedly struggled last season to find his way in then head coach Gary Kubiak’s run first offense. This year, however, his teammates have noticed a new renewed focus and dedication out of the former first round pick.
“Paxton’s doing great,” one Broncos offensive player said at the start of the team’s offseason workout program. “He’s always been pretty engaged, but it’s good to see him coming into his own now with a year under his belt.”
During the aforementioned open practice on Tuesday, Lynch showed off impressive mobility and a canon of a right arm. However, he struggled at times with short to intermediate throws and consistent accuracy escaped him.
“I thought Paxton has been fine,” Joseph said. “He’s made some really impressive throws. He’s made some bad ones. Both guys have. Again, it’s the learning stages of a new offense. The point of OTAs, in my opinion for the quarterbacks, is to learn Mike’s system so in training camp they can really compete for a job. Right now, it’s a learning process. Mike has put a lot of offense in. Some of those plays are really long. I can’t even pronounce them, so it’s a process.”
Siemian, meanwhile, has largely remained the same consistent and steady player he was for much of last season. He’s usually accurate and on time with the football and seems to be adjusting well to McCoy’s new offense. However, he too has made his share of mistakes in the early going, re-emphasizing the fact that neither quarterback is ready to play at this point.
Thankfully, they don’t have to be. The Broncos don’t play a regular season game for another 101 days. They don’t even start training camp for almost two months. While his draft status, physical tools, and improved mental command lead many to believe Lynch is the odds on favorite for the job, there’s simply too much left up in the air to decide who’s won this job. Heck, it’s too early to even start keeping score.
Ultimately, head coach Vance Joseph and his staff will have to decide which player is best to lead the Denver Broncos into the future. Even other players admit that’s an unenviable position to be in.
“They’re competing, man,” linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “They have a new offense. They’re still learning. Mike McCoy has brought a lot of juice to the offense. I love the offense, personally. Paxton has the arm that you dream of. Siemian has the accuracy and the mind that you dream of. It’s going to be a good battle so we’ll see.”