Broncos Rookie QB Lynch Learning The Hard Way

He dropped back and locked in on Jordan Taylor, the Broncos’ preseason leader receiving yardage. But he didn’t read the Cardinals’ short zone properly, and Gabe Martin jumped the pass, returning it 29 yards for a game-clinching score in a 38-17 preseason-ending loss.

Paxton Lynch #12 of the Denver Broncos passes against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on August 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Broncos defeated the Bears 22-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Paxton Lynch #12 of the Denver Broncos passes against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on August 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Broncos defeated the Bears 22-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“That’s experience (Arizona) changing coverage up on him. He’s got to make a better decision with the ball,” Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said.

Still, the positives outweighed the negatives for Lynch in the preseason. He threw twice as many touchdown passes (four) as interceptions (two), posted a 103.5 rating in Thursday night’s loss, and showed improved presence in the pocket as the summer progressed, only being sacked once in 23 drop backs during the preseason finale.

But now the question that lingers over the Broncos is clear: When will Lynch be ready to start?

Lynch’s development has been placed on the “fast track” by Kubiak, but Trevor Siemian, a second-year veteran with as many regular-season passes as Lynch, will make the Week-1 start against Carolina.

Quarterback Trevor Siemian #13 of the Denver Broncos throws a pass during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on August 27, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Quarterback Trevor Siemian #13 of the Denver Broncos throws a pass during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on August 27, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

If Siemian starts the entire season, it likely means the Broncos have had a successful campaign that gets them back to the postseason for a sixth consecutive year since John Elway became the team’s chief football operations executive in 2011. But if Siemian struggles, the calls for Lynch will be loud and long, even though the learning curve for the first-round pick remains steep.

Siemian, who started the second and third preseason games, said he doesn’t feel any pressure.

“I don’t see it like that,” he said. “I’ve tried to keep the same mindset the whole way through, take it one day at a time. That’s what got me here and that’s what’s gotten this team here to be honest with you. That’s the mindset going forward.”

But the Panthers are likely to supply plenty of pressure on their own. Although Siemian had the chance to steel himself last year while guiding the Broncos’ scout team against their top-ranked defense, the Panthers have a front seven at least as quick and aggressive as Denver’s.

That’s why Siemian admits he hasn’t given his mindset much consideration.

“I haven’t thought about it too much. I’m thinking about Carolina,” he said. “I’m thinking about what we have to do and I’m trying to get a little better every day.”

Whether that incremental improvement is enough will determine the success or failure of Siemian as a starter.

The Broncos have a championship-caliber defense, two recent Pro Bowlers at the receiver spots and a running back in C.J. Anderson who has been the league’s most productive late-season back the last two years.

C.J. Anderson #22 of the Denver Broncos runs the ball in second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 17, 2016. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

C.J. Anderson #22 of the Denver Broncos runs the ball in second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 17, 2016. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

But all of their hopes might rest on whether Siemian is ready for the job — and if he’s not, how soon Lynch can be ready without jeopardizing his long-term development.

It’s a conundrum no defending Super Bowl champion has ever faced.

The Broncos’ offensive line shuffling continued Sunday with the issuing of their first regular-season depth chart.

–The Broncos’ offensive line shuffling continued Sunday with the issuing of their first regular-season depth chart.

Third-year veteran Michael Schofield, the right tackle for most of last season, beat out Darrion Weems and Ty Sambrailo to become the Week 1 starter at right guard. Weems is listed as his backup, with Sambrailo, who sat out all of August because of an elbow injury, listed as the backup at both tackle spots to Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson.

Weems missed the third preseason game with a concussion and then was held out of the preseason finale after passing through the league-mandated post-concussion protocol, but Schofield did enough throughout the preseason to get the job, Kubiak noted.

“We think he’s earned that opportunity. He’s had a really good camp; he’s played everywhere,” Kubiak said. “He’s settled down over the last two weeks and played the guard position with Weems out. Michael’s earned that right.”

Ty Sambrailo (credit: CBS)

Ty Sambrailo (credit: CBS)

Sambrailo, who practiced Sunday, now projects as the swing backup once he gets healthy. He was cleared to resume football drills this week, but was limited to individual work during the Sunday practice.

–Denver’s attempts to trade Mark Sanchez failed, leading to his release on Saturday. The Cowboys signed Sanchez shortly thereafter to serve as the backup to rookie starter Dak Prescott.

That brought an end to a Denver stint that didn’t even last six months and saw Sanchez’s hopes of being Peyton Manning’s successor felled by his longtime bugaboo: giveaways. Three of his eight preseason possessions ended in turnovers, hastening his Broncos demise.

“He handled it with great class and I know he was disappointed,” Elway said. “He wanted to stay here. We just thought that where we are (that) it was probably best for us to go in different ways at this point in time.”

By not keeping Sanchez on their 53-man roster, the Broncos do not owe the Eagles a draft pick from their March trade, as the choice was conditional. The Broncos also saved $3.5 million against the cap by letting go of Sanchez, although Elway said financial considerations were not a factor in any of their recent moves, including the release of punter Britton Colquitt four days earlier.

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