ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — When he demoted Paxton Lynch to third string QB this week, Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph said potential simply has to equal performance at some point and that the depth chart reflects results.
That doesn’t explain why tight end Jeff Heuerman and running back Devontae Booker are listed as starters despite middling resumes, promising pursuers and so-so summers.
Heuerman has 18 catches and two touchdowns in two years since missing his rookie season with a left knee injury. He missed most of training camp this summer with soreness in that same knee before returning this week to rave reviews from the coaching staff.
Second-year pro Jake Butt, who missed his rookie season following knee surgery, has been impressive in Heuerman’s absence but remains listed as the backup.
“They’re different,” Joseph said. “So, having a No. 1 tight end in our offense? Not that important. But having a couple of guys who have different skill sets, that’s important for us. Heuerman’s a bigger man. He’s more of an in-line blocker. Butt is a pass catcher, a route runner, a guy who can play in space versus (line) backers and win.
“So, they’re different. So, who’s 1? It depends on what play we call.”
Similarly, Joseph pointed to the differences between Booker and rookie backup Royce Freeman at running back.
“We need both guys,” Joseph said, “and they’re really different in what they do for our offense.”
Quarterback Case Keenum’s Denver debut was a dud last weekend against Minnesota as the starting offense went three-and-out twice, and the buzz surrounding the Broncos’ summer quickly fizzled.
On the opening series, Booker ran into his guard after a 3-yard gain on second-and-10. On the second series, Freeman dropped a pass on third-and-6.
Freeman bounced back to gain 38 yards on four carries, including a 23-yard touchdown scamper. Booker finished with two carries for 7 yards.
“Book is Book. I’ve been around Book for almost two years now, so I’ve watched him play and he’s doing what he does well — that’s third downs, catching the ball, outside zone is his best run,” Joseph said. “Royce is a downhill pounder. He’s a one-cut runner with pretty good vertical speed.
“I’ve been impressed with both guys, and again to go back to the tight ends question, we need both guys,” Joseph said. “They’re both really different in what they do for our offense.”
The Broncos demoted Lynch, their 2016 first-round draft pick, this week in favor of Chad Kelly, a 2017 seventh-rounder who spent his rookie season on IR.
General manager John Elway isn’t sure Kelly’s ready to be the backup , and he might have to acquire a veteran backup later this month and finally give up on Lynch.
The Broncos aren’t ready to move on from Booker or Heuerman, however.
“We drafted Jeff in the third round three or four years ago, so we have high expectations because he has a lot of talent,” Elway said. “Hopefully, we can keep him healthy. He’s struggled with some injuries, but he’s very talented and he wants to be a good player and he wants to be on the field. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy and keep him out there, because we think he can be a guy that can be very helpful at tight end.”
Asked if Heuerman being listed as the starter on the initial depth chart was a vote of confidence in a guy who had missed most of camp with a nagging knee or a reflection of the inexperience of the tight ends group, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said, “probably all of the above.”
Heuerman has been dominant since returning to practice Tuesday and should make his 2018 debut Saturday night against the Chicago Bears.
“He’s got fresh legs. He was the fastest guy we had on the field today running from safeties and backers and even corners,” Musgrave said Tuesday when Heuerman returned to the field.
The key is keeping him out of the trainer’s room.
“If we can get his knee right,” Musgrave said, “he could really be a weapon for us.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer