Which quarterback will guide Denver’s title defense in 2016?
DENVER — Von Miller is back to lead Denver’s devastating defense. Still undetermined is who will direct the Broncos’ revamped offense.
Journeyman Mark Sanchez, rookie Paxton Lynch and the unheralded Trevor Siemian are in the mix at quarterback for the Broncos, who lost Brock Osweiler to free agency 48 hours after Peyton Manning’s misty-eyed retirement.
No team has successfully defended its Super Bowl title since the 2004 New England Patriots. The Broncos are the first team since the 2001 Baltimore Ravens to try to go back to back after losing its top two QBs.
After losing the bidding duel with Houston for Osweiler, GM John Elway acquired Sanchez from the Eagles and outmaneuvered Jerry Jones to select Lynch out of Memphis in the first round of the draft.
Yet, it was Siemian, the 2015 seventh-rounder with just one snap on his resume, who looked the sharpest in Denver’s drama-filled offseason, putting him in prime position to upset Sanchez for the starting job.
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“I think they’re looking each other right in the eye throughout the whole course of the offseason as far who is ahead and who is one or two,” coach Gary Kubiak said.
“I think those two guys are right there with each other. I think it’s a very competitive situation. They’re obviously ahead of our young guy just from a mental standpoint right now.”
Ideally, Lynch would sit a season as he adjusts to the NFL after running the spread offense in college.
Both Sanchez and Siemian took the briefest of summer vacations before returning to Denver to continue their quest to take over an offense that features just four returning starters.
The defense lost Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan to free agency, but returns most members of the one of the best defenses in NFL history.
His defense is so devastating that Kubiak won’t have to wait for the preseason games to see which of his quarterbacks is his guy.
Kubiak said he’ll ratchet up the pressure — easier with Miller back in uniform — and run plenty of no-huddle over the first couple of weeks of training camp to see who’ll win the job.
Other things to pay attention to as the Broncos defend their title:
MILLER’S MILLIONS: Miller predicted peaceful contract negotiations 12 hours after spearheading Denver’s 24-10 win over Carolina in the Super Bowl. Although things got testy at times and Elway refused to let Miller’s camp seek a trade, the sides got a deal done that they believe is a win-win. Miller gets $70 million guaranteed and Elway gets several more seasons out of the man he’s called the best player on the planet. After spending more time on the dance floor than the football field over the past six months, the Broncos need Miller to be the same demolition man he was in the playoffs.
MILLER’S MINIONS: Two big question marks still face Denver’s defense: DeMarcus Ware’s balky back and Aqib Talib’s wounded right leg. Ware didn’t participate in a single snap in the offseason as his bad back that limited him to 11 games last season acted up again. Talib said he feels fine and is full-go after recovering from a gunshot wound to his right thigh and calf last month in a shooting in Dallas. Even if he returns to his superstar level, Talib, who’s had firearm incidents in the past, could face legal consequences and punishment from the NFL.
NEW O-LINE: The Broncos won it all behind a patchwork offensive line that was dissembled not long after the victory parade attended by more than a million fans.
Elway jettisoned right guard Louis Vasquez and let left tackle Ryan Harris and left guard Evan Mathis sign elsewhere. With Max Garcia moving to left guard and Michael Schofield to swing tackle behind free agent acquisitions Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, only center Matt Paradis returns at his 2015 position.
NEW OFFENSE: The Broncos ditched their hybrid offense when Manning retired. Expect more two tight end sets and heavy doses of hand offs to C.J. Anderson and rookie Devontae Booker, who will be running behind fullbacks Andy Janovich and Juwan Thompson.
At tight end, the Broncos said farewell to Vernon Davis and Owen Daniels and brought in Garrett Graham and Henry Krieger Coble. Jeff Heuerman, who missed his rookie season with a knee injury, returns alongside veteran Virgil Green.
SANDERS NEXT: Elway said he had a trio of priorities this summer: re-signing linebackers Miller and Brandon Marshall along with receiver Emmanuel Sanders. He’s 2 for 3 with Miller and Marshall (four years, $32 million) done. Sanders is entering the final season of his three-year, $15 million deal.
SEASON SCHEDULE: The Broncos will open the season at home against the team they topped in Super Bowl 50 — the Carolina Panthers. Denver will raise the championship banner before the game.
Outside of the first game of the year, Denver hosts the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2, before then facing Cincinnati and Tampa Bay on the road in back-to-back weeks.
Dec. 18 is the rematch with the New England Patriots, whom the Broncos beat in the AFC Championship game this past January, before then closing the season Jan. 1 with a home matchup against Oakland.
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