SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Reading the tea leaves about what the Denver Broncos want to see before coach Vance Joseph names a starting quarterback has been a popular summer activity for the team’s faithful.
Folks have tried to decide how much experience will matter, how much arm strength will matter, how much practice will matter, how much the preseason games will matter. There are some who believe it only matters that one quarterback was selected in the first round — and the Broncos moved up to do it — and the other was not.
But as the Broncos try to decide if 2016 starter Trevor Siemian or 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch should be first string, the team’s top football decision-maker, John Elway, let the cat out of the bag — at least a little bit — after two days of joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers this week.
“We’d like the decision made by itself,” Elway said. “We’ve talked about that decision being made by itself. We want one of them to take the reins and take over; it would be the ideal situation. We’re getting through this game and we’ll go from there, see what happens.”
This is not the first time Elway has hinted at this or even offered it as the key piece. But Thursday afternoon, Elway knew exactly what he was saying. As the second preseason game approaches, Joseph is headed toward a decision and he and Elway are on the same page on this, so anything Elway said publicly this week is no surprise.
And it’s clear that Lynch’s arm alone won’t be enough for him to win it, and Siemian’s timing and consistency won’t be enough for him to win it. The Broncos will name a starter, possibly as soon as next week, if they see what they want to see Saturday night against the 49ers. Or they could just get tired of waiting, so they might pick one and hope for the best.
But the Broncos are still waiting for one of the two quarterbacks to quit deferring to their more veteran teammates and show some willingness to push to the front of the line. That doesn’t mean they can throw interceptions and manufacture a collection of three-and-outs. That won’t get either one the job.
And it doesn’t mean the guy who yells the loudest, pumps his fist the most or runs around celebrating a good play the longest is “taking the reins.” It does mean the guy who plays the cleanest Saturday night in Levi’s Stadium, while also showing a little swagger along the way, can win the job.
There is an overriding frustration inside the Broncos complex that both Siemian and Lynch tip-toe too much. That’s not surprising because it’s difficult to face your teammates the way a starter would when you’re not the starter, especially at quarterback.
And players have no patience for false noise coming from other players they don’t believe work hard enough or play well enough. So it’s natural for these second- and third-year quarterbacks to tread lightly as they wrestle with learning their second offense in the past two seasons.
Even Thursday, when Lynch had one of his better practice days, both Elway and Joseph offered the same nugget.
“Like we said, he’s making progress; they’re all making progress,” Elway said. “But I think what you saw in Paxton [Thursday] is he played with a little more confidence than he has in the past. I think any time he does that, he’s a lot more successful. That comes with youth, too. You have your ups and downs as youths and the consistency is not there where you want it to be. That’s why you continue to practice, continue to work and continue to get better.”
“His best day? I’m not sure,” Joseph said after the workout. “He made three or four big-time throws [Thursday]. He looked relaxed. Hopefully that carries over to Saturday.”
Elway has said both quarterbacks have what they need to succeed “talent-wise” and Joseph has said he wants to see “separation.”
That means they shouldn’t make mistakes, but should rebound if they do and be the guy ejp doesn’t just have the job, but can handle the job. And if the Broncos aren’t positive about which one can handle the job, they’ll pick the guy who gets the closest.