In the NFL, they say that when you have two quarterbacks, you have none. The Denver Broncos are living that cliche.
It's a catch-phrase and easy to remember, but it's not absolute. While the Broncos are still working to identify the man under center — someone who can carry the franchise forward — they do have two viable options poised to battle for the starting job this summer.
There are many NFL franchises who envy Denver's current quarterback situation, believe it or not. We don't yet know who will win the competition, but we do have a better understanding of what first-year head coach Vance Joseph is looking for from Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.
In a recent interview with the MMQB's Albert Breer, Joseph shared his vision for what Denver's starting quarterback will look like.
“I’d say decision-making is going to be a major factor in who wins the job,” Joseph said. “That’s the position in the NFL—the guy who makes great decisions with the football, not turning the football over, and the guy who lets his teammates play for him, that’s the guy I want to lead our football team. Obviously, ball placement in the pass game, the ability to get us into the best play, those things are important.
“But it comes down to decision-making—that’s the biggest factor in this decision I’m going to make.”
If the Broncos QB battle is going to come down to decision making, it would be easy to assume that the cerebral Siemian would have the advantage. However, there's a lot more to that particular skill-set than avoiding a throw into double coverage.
In 2016, Siemian won the starting job over Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch and went on to start 14 games. He led the Broncos to an 8-6 record as the starter, with Lynch going 1-1 in his two starts.
There were a couple of games in which Siemian tested the opposing defense vertically — Week 3 at Cincinnati and Week 12 vs. Kansas City — but for the most part, Siemian's decision making was ultra-conservative. Rather than challenging the defense on 3rd-&-7 for example — and trying to pick up the first down — Siemian would often check the ball down, or hit a receiver running a shallow cross — only to be tackled well shy of the sticks.
It didn't take opposing defenses long to figure out how to shut down the Broncos offense. They'd work to stop the run on first and second down and put the Broncos in 3rd-&-long situations. From there, they'd allow Siemian the easy underneath throws, knowing full well he would take them.
How many times do you remember Broncos receivers getting tackled yards short of the sticks on third down last year? Much of that had to do with Siemian's decision making as a quarterback — but it's also symptomatic of most young players at the position.
Lynch also struggled with many aspects of decision making as a rookie, whether it was in reading defenses and coverages, bailing the pocket too soon, or even holding onto the ball too long. His Week 13 performance at Jacksonville was also maddeningly conservative. Much of that, I'm sure, had to do with the coaching both young players were getting from Gary Kubiak.
In the NFL, quarterbacks have to challenge defenses vertically. That's what it takes and it's what separates the backups from the big boys. We saw Siemian do that at times last year, but it was few and far between. Lynch's sample size was too small to get an accurate read on his capabilities in this department.
Whether it's Siemian or Lynch, new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will expect his quarterback to make plays on third down and much of that will come down to decision making. This year, there's no baggage. Neither Joseph, McCoy or quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave were on staff when the Broncos drafted Siemian and Lynch.
A whole new set of eyes will be evaluating the quarterback competition this year — and the entire roster.
“I told the entire team, from this moment on, everyone gets a clean slate. And that includes the quarterbacks,” Joseph said coming off the field this week. “So how they play from this moment on is what I’m concerned about, not last year, or college. I’m concerned about this moment, moving forward, who the best guy is for our football team.”
As Breer points out in his piece, Denver's quarterback competition is poised to be one of the most compelling national storylines of the summer. The Broncos believe they are a quarterback away from contending for World Championships again.
Will either of these two young signal-callers answer the bell? We shall see.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.