ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The clock has officially started ticking on rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch.
As soon as Lynch took his first throws as the only quarterback a the Denver Broncos' rookie minicamp this past weekend, the questions about when the first-round pick would be ready to play began.
“I was pretty confident in myself that I can pick up things pretty quickly and learn what I need to learn," Lynch said after Friday’s practice. “ ... Obviously it’s different because it’s the NFL. There is just way more terminology and way more stuff you have to know at the line."
There are, of course, two sides to this coin. Physically, at 6-foot-6 5/8 inches tall and 244 pounds, with upper-tier arm strength to go with elite foot quickness for a player of his height, Lynch is a tantalizing prospect. He is an especially good fit in an offense like Gary Kubiak’s that covets quarterbacks who can throw on the move with deep power.
Quarterback prospects with Lynch’s physical attributes rarely struggle because they can’t handle the physical requirements of the job. It’s the other learning curve, the one that includes a transition into an NFL offense, reading NFL defenses and handling the scrutiny that most often turn impatience into failure.
“We’re just going to work, day at a time," Kubiak said. “Obviously I think he’s going to make up ground quickly. I’ve said that a couple of times. I see that in him. I feel that when I’m around him."
But Lynch has largely worked under center only in his pre-draft workouts. His offense at Memphis put him in the shotgun much of the time, so he has limited experience coming away from center, scanning a defense in the traditional three-, five- and seven-step dropbacks.
The footwork coming away from center in the run game is also a transition for a quarterback who has spent much of his college career in a spread offense, handing the ball to a running back out of the shotgun. That footwork also comes into play in the play-action passing game -- the "bread and butter" of Kubiak’s offense, as former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer has called it.
Plummer has said “when you’re coming out of the fake (handoff) you’re on the move, on the roll, you have to get your feet under you to make the throw, be accurate, keep your eyes up. If you’re not used to it, sometimes your eyes drop because you’re worried about what your feet are doing. And if you don’t handle the fake right when you come away from center, the timing isn’t going to be there. It’s an adjustment for everybody, no matter how long you’ve been in the league, if you’ve never done it."
It was an adjustment even for future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning last season. Couple that with Lynch being asked to control things in a huddle -- Memphis didn’t really use one -- in an offense that is known to have more verbiage in the play-calls than other offenses, on top of reading NFL defenses built to specialize for a variety of down and distance, and the developmental penalty for rushing a prized prospect could be severe.
"College football there is a lot of no-huddle on the ball," Kubiak said. "Guys have menus, what they call menus, so they’re not really calling plays or those types of things. I think for any players -- receivers, quarterbacks -- a lot of guys coming out we find that we have a lot of ground to make up from that standpoint."
The Broncos, with a Super Bowl trophy in hand and nine starters returning on the league’s best defense in 2015, don’t have to hurry. They have veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has four NFL playoff wins and Trevor Siemian, a 2015 draft pick who showed enough to be the No. 2 quarterback in games down the stretch last season.
But the constant drumbeat of anticipation for a prized quarterback can often lure teams into short-term decisions that have long-term impact. The Broncos do, privately, believe Lynch could be ready to start games before many others in the league. That is, after all, why they traded up five spots to get him in the first round.
What they really like is Lynch’s unflappable nature. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has often spoken of the importance of a quarterback prospect’s ability not to let all of the trappings and face-of-the-franchise requirements of the job affect how he performs on the field.
“Obviously it’s a whole new offense, it’s an NFL offense so there are going to be struggles with everybody," Lynch said Friday. “I felt like I knew what was going on; I just don’t think I was picking it up as fast as I should have. That will come in time."