ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos find themselves in an odd spot, caught between their current struggles, their belief they still can salvage a season in its final seven weeks and their desire to take a potential look at the future.
And it all can be seen in the current situation at quarterback, where Paxton Lynch, a former No. 1 pick who has lost consecutive training camp battles to Trevor Siemian, might play as the starter this season -- or he might not.
Lynch, who suffered a right shoulder injury in August, has yet to be in uniform for any of the Broncos' nine games this season. But he has worked as the team's No. 2 quarterback this week in practice, and coach Vance Joseph has left open the possibility Lynch could be the backup behind Brock Osweiler for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Lynch's participation in practice on Wednesday and Thursday constituted his most extensive work since August.
"Obviously, if you ask me if I can play, I'm going to say yes," Lynch said this week. "I would have said that right when I got hurt. But I talked to the trainers and the coaches, and like I said, they've done a good job so far and I feel great. I'm just going to continue to leave it up to them."
In recent weeks, because Lynch had spent so much time rehabbing his shoulder injury, Joseph said "it wouldn't be fair" to put Lynch behind center in a regular-season game until he was ready physically and from a preparation standpoint. Until this week, Siemian and Osweiler had worked as the top two quarterbacks in practice -- Siemian was benched following a three-interception night in an Oct. 30 loss in Kansas City, with Osweiler taking over the starting role.
However, as the Broncos' offense has struggled and the losses have mounted -- five in a row, six in the past seven games -- the possibility of Lynch playing, of simply putting him in the lineup to see what he can do, has been the hottest of hot-button topics outside of the team's walls. The Broncos traded up in the first round of the 2016 draft to select Lynch 26th overall, but his transition from the spread offense he played in at Memphis to what the Broncos want him to do has required some effort.
When Lynch suffered his shoulder injury -- in a preseason win against the Green Bay Packers in August -- Siemian had been announced as the team's starter for the regular season five days earlier. In his rookie season in '16, Lynch played as the team's No. 2 quarterback after Siemian had won that training camp battle over Lynch and Mark Sanchez.
So, 25 games into his career, Lynch has just two career starts -- for the injured Siemian last season -- and Joseph hasn't said if Lynch will be Osweiler's backup this Sunday or if he will start a game at some point this season. Joseph said this week Osweiler would start against the Bengals and that's as far as he would go at the moment.
"My only concern is Sunday," Joseph said. "That's Brock's job on Sunday."
What's at work for the Broncos is a first-year head coach and a new staff that still has a mathematical chance to get in the AFC's wild-card chase with a handful of wins. Given they've been outscored 92-28 in the past two games alone, that possibility may appear to be a slender straw to grasp to many, but it is what Joseph has told the team and what many of the veteran players believe.
"We just need one win, then we've got to go get the next one and the next one," linebacker Von Miller said. "The first step is just getting the win."
So Osweiler may be the pick as long as there is some mathematical possibility the Broncos could fight their way into the postseason. Working in the Broncos' favor is the fact that just one of the teams remaining in the last seven weeks of the schedule -- the Kansas City Chiefs in the regular-season finale -- has a winning record.
"We truly believe as players in that locker room that if we can get this win, hopefully we can create some momentum with that and get a little streak going," Osweiler said. "At the end of the day, our goal is still out there for us to go out there and take.''
If Osweiler falters, is injured or the Broncos simply are formally eliminated from any more discussion of streaks and finishing strong, then perhaps it will be Lynch's time. Decisions about the future will have to be made at some point.
Of the Broncos' four quarterbacks -- rookie Chad Kelly is on injured reserve -- Lynch, Siemian and Kelly all are under contract for next season, and Osweiler, who is on a one-year deal, has publicly spoken of how much he likes being back with the Broncos since signing in September.
For his part, Lynch said this week he's prepared and ready to perform if given the opportunity.
"I'm excited. I know Brock is the guy this week. I'm doing everything I have to do to support him," Lynch said. "Being in the position I am in, that's what I'm going to do. Just moving forward, I'm just taking it day by day and week by week."