ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Before Gary Kubiak made his exit from the organization, and the job he said he loved, he cast the eye of a longtime quarterback coach, and the former NFL quarterback he will always be, and predicted a pretty good football scrap on the horizon to be the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback next season.
Kubiak had chosen Trevor Siemian for that job this past season, and when the season was over Kubiak said he was "proud" of what Siemian had done and offered many times that Siemian had shown "he can be a starter in this league for a long time and he does things already that are hard to teach, he doesn't bury his head when he moves, those kinds of things."
But the Broncos took Paxton Lynch in the first round last year, and no matter what stage a player is in during his development, that first-round selection always carries plenty of expectations in the public domain about when a guy should play.
As Kubiak put it after sitting down with both quarterbacks the night before the regular-season finale: "Trevor knows, and I had this talk with Trevor and Paxton ... how competitive their situation is going to be. They’re both good young players. It’s about wanting to be great. I think they both want to be great. They’re going to have to show this football team that."
In that vein, we decided to ask experts what, exactly, Siemian and Lynch need to do to win the job next season. We asked an informal group that included two defensive coordinators who faced the Broncos and studied both quarterbacks, and two NFL quarterback coaches who studied each extensively leading up to the past two drafts.
What they said about Siemian:
When Vance Joseph was formally introduced as the Broncos' head coach, he said of Siemian: "Trevor is a guy that’s smart; great footwork, great detail in his game. You can see it how he plays. He makes [few] errors with the football." Joseph also said Siemian was "quick with the ball," meaning Siemian made decisions quickly against the coverages he saw.
Those surveyed echoed Joseph's thoughts. One of the defensive coordinators offered that if the Broncos had been able to give Siemian a cleaner pocket more often, he could have been a 4,000-yard passer. Siemian missed two starts with injuries and finished with 3,401 yards.
Where Siemian’s work is to be done, they said, was first physically -- that he simply must get stronger. Siemian had left (non-throwing) shoulder surgery in the days following the season, so he won't be able to begin his workouts until he is cleared medically.
Those surveyed also said his willingness to stand in, take a hit and still make a throw showed he keeps his eyes downfield and can work when there is traffic around him. But they added that he tends to hold the ball when stressed at times -- common among young quarterbacks who worry about the impact of mistakes on their playing status -- and takes too many unnecessary hits.
The defensive coaches noted that Siemian can be difficult to defend at his best, because he did show he could fit passes into tight spaces. But he also takes risks at times he shouldn’t with passes outside the numbers.
But he showed command in the no-huddle, they said, as well as some quality late-game work, and their belief overall was Siemian would be difficult to unseat if he progresses quickly in the new offense -- and if the Broncos' competition is truly open. They said Siemian also has to demonstrate he isn't a "plateau player" right now who has already shown what his best will be, that he still can reach higher levels of development.
What they said about Lynch:
They love the arm, the mobility and the physical presence.
The quarterback coaches each said, however, that Lynch’s offense in college didn’t really prep him for the NFL -- no matter how good he was at running it. They said he needs to continue to spend time with basic footwork drills to keep himself, at 6-foot-7, from getting too deep in the pocket on both his five- and seven-step drops.
They also pointed to a smattering of snaps on which Lynch backed up too far even when he had received the ball in the shotgun, giving the edge rushers an easier path to him because of the angles.
Lynch also is still far more comfortable moving the ball outside the hashmarks and looks indecisive, the defensive coaches said, when coverage directs him to the middle of the field. Until that changes, defenses will take away those wide throws and force him to throw into the high-traffic areas.
The coaches said, though it is natural for a player with Lynch’s mobility and youth, he is still too quick to leave the pocket if his first read is covered. The two defensive coordinators each said they told their pass-rushers they believed Lynch didn’t quite have the feel yet for rushers from his blind side -- particularly when he started the play under center.
All of those surveyed said they wondered how new Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy would fit the two quarterbacks into the offense. McCoy has called plays for Tim Tebow, in an option-based offense, as well as for Peyton Manning in the Broncos' offense and worked with Philip Rivers as the Chargers' head coach.