Paxton Lynch Is Taking Advantage Of Practicing Against The NFL's No. 1 Defense

Paxton Lynch talks about his first day of OTAs with the 2016 Denver Broncos.

Tuesday, the Denver Broncos kicked off their 2016 Organized Team Activities, and rookie first-round quarterback Paxton Lynch was in the muss, soaking it all in—getting used to playing under center and finding his place among his new teammates. 

“It’s kind of my first time doing it, being under center, having routes and throwing on time," Lynch said. "But today I felt pretty good. I kind of circled back around and went over some stuff that we’ve already done. I felt pretty confident and had a pretty good day.”

Pro Bowl receiver Emmanuel Sanders concurs with the rookie's self-criticism of his first day at OTAs. 

"The rookie looked really good," Sanders said. "I’m optimistic."

Among other things, one of the biggest learning curves for any rookie player—especially a quarterback—is acclimating to the speed of the NFL game. At the professional level, everyone is bigger, faster, stronger. Playing faster isn't just a physical requirement, it also applies to the mental side of the game. 

“Even at Memphis we were fast tempo, but here you’ve got to get to the huddle, get the play call and speed it up," he said. "It’s definitely fast paced.”

Lynch is beginning a three-way competition to determine who Denver's starting QB will be when the team opens up the regular season on September 8. His benevolent oppenents—veteran Mark Sanchez and second-year Trevor Siemian—aren't going to make it easy on him, simply because he's a first round pick. 

Sanchez surprised everyone Tuesday taking first-team snaps, despite having undergone surgery to repair a torn ligament in the thumb of his non-throwing hand (left) less than two weeks ago. The former top-5 draft pick of the New York Jets doesn't want to relinquish any reps and give Lynch, or Siemian, an edge on the competition. “I know Mark can’t really do that much because of his hand," Lynch said. "He can hardly take a snap. I know he’s excited to be out there, too. I know he was out there a couple of times snapping the ball to himself so that he could get some snaps. It’s a lot of fun whenever you have guys that are competing against each other and making each other play better.”

For Lynch, one thing that could help make or break his rookie leap is going against Denver's No. 1 defense. The same unit that led the charge in the Broncos winning Super Bowl 50. The same unit that's returning 9-of-11 starters from 2015. 

“It’s a lot of fun. in my opinion, when you go against the best defense in the league, it only makes you better," Lynch said. "It feels good knowing that we come out here every day facing the best competition. It’s only going to make the offensive guys better, and especially us younger guys to get to see that coming straight from the college level. It’s a lot of fun and pretty exciting.”

Playing under center—reading defenses, progressions, timing and honing the dropback technique—is something Lynch is having to relearn, after playing his last two years out of the shotgun in Memphis' spread offense. However, it's not completely alien to him. He played under center some during his freshman year with the Tigers. 

These are all points of emphasis for the young gunslinger. He's trying to juggle it all, while also immersing himself in the playbook. 

“It’s a lot to handle, especially coming from the offense I came from," he said. "We did a lot of stuff, but translating it to the NFL—any college offense is going to be different. Just timing my footwork with my progressions and being on time and knowing this and that. Especially with how fast we get in and out of the huddle. That’s kind of the biggest learning curve. I feel pretty good about it.” Lynch is a work-in-progress. Rome wasn't built in a day. By the virtue of their elite defense, the Broncos could afford to start Lynch as a rookie—and still win games—but there's no reason to rush him or force the mantle of leadership on him too early, especially for a team coming off a Super Bowl victory, with a locker room packed with experienced veterans. 

It's going to take time. Earning the respect of your peers takes time. Lynch knows this. What you accomplished in college, or what round you were selected in the Draft is of little importance to NFL vets. Learning on the job, while also working to earn the respect of your teammates, is an enormous balancing act. 

“I think it’s kind of tough in a way just because as a rookie nothing [you did] in college really matters," Lynch said. "You come here and it’s a clean slate. Like you said, you’re on the Super Bowl champs. I have no rank around here. I’m a first-round draft pick, but who cares? We’re all on the same team here. I’m playing with free agents right now. We’re all trying to do the same thing. In my mind, I’m trying to earn a spot on the team. I just think if you come out here and work and show these guys you’re putting in the effort, they’ll see that you’re doing what you need to be doing. Then you have the opportunity to fulfill that leadership role.”

The kid has a great attitude. And there's no doubting he has the raw talent to contend with Denver's veterans. It'll take time. But the Broncos are going to give it to him. And if, when the dust settles, he ends up as the starting quarterback, it'll be because he earned it, not because it was handed to him. 

Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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