Broncos bench rookie returner, Lynch’s workload increases
ENGLEWOOD — The slumping Denver Broncos have a new punt returner and a new backup outside linebacker. They might be getting a fresh face at quarterback soon, too.
Vance Joseph, whose team is mired in a five-game slump in which the Broncos (3-6) have been outscored by a whopping 97 points, promoted wide receiver Jordan Taylor ahead of rookie Isaiah McKenzie, whose fifth fumble Sunday night ignited the New England Patriots’ 41-16 rout of their rival.
Joseph also said Brock Osweiler remains on track to start Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals (3-6) despite a sore throwing shoulder that limited him in practice Wednesday, when Paxton Lynch got his heaviest workload of the season.
Osweiler, who has started the last two weeks, said his injury was “no big deal. It’s something that I was able to play the entire game with and didn’t miss a single snap. I’m going to be ready to go Sunday and it’s not going to cause any problems.”
Lynch has been sidelined since spraining his throwing shoulder in the Broncos’ third preseason game.
While insisting “Brock is still the starter. He will be fine,” Joseph wouldn’t commit to either Lynch or former starter Trevor Siemian being the backup against the Bengals.
“Right now, that’s being determined,” Joseph said. “We gave Paxton No. 2 reps today to kind of see where he’s at with his shoulder. He did fine. He threw the ball fine today.”
Joseph said Lynch took the snaps on throwing plays and Osweiler on hand-offs.
“He threw the ball fine,” Joseph said of Lynch, whom the Broncos moved up to draft in the first round in 2016 only to see him get handily beaten out by Siemian two consecutive training camps. “He had command of the huddle. It’s practice. It should look good in practice.”
That’s become a running joke on the airwaves in Denver. Joseph, in his first year as a head coach in the NFL after a single season as a defensive coordinator in Miami, has said repeatedly over the last month that the Broncos have had great weeks of practice before getting blown out.
They’ve been outscored 165-68 during their recent rut, including 55-9 in the first quarter.
For weeks, it was Lynch who was limited to throwing short passes but on Wednesday Osweiler could only throw short passes while Lynch “threw a deep ball today,” Joseph said. “It looked good.”
For the first time all year, Joseph indicated Lynch could see his first action of the season this weekend, if needed.
“I would say yes,” Joseph said.
Lynch said he feels fine and is ready if called upon.
“I would have said that right when I got hurt,” too, Lynch said. “But I talked to the trainers and the coaches, and they’ve done a good job so far and I feel great. I’m just going to continue to leave it up to them.”
As for benching McKenzie, Joseph said, “I want to get the ball caught. That’s the first job description for a punt returner, is to possess the ball. … We can’t have any more issues as far as muffing the punts.”
McKenzie won’t return kickoffs, either.
“That’s [Devontae] Booker’s job,” Joseph said.
Also Wednesday, the Broncos replaced outside linebacker Kasim Edebali on the roster by promoting Deiontrez Mount from their practice squad.
“It was more about Mount,” Joseph said. “Mount has had a month and a half of practice rushing the passer and playing on teams. It was more about Mount earning the opportunity to be on the roster.”
Mount is a third-year pro who’s appeared in five career games with the Titans (2015) and Colts (2016) after a standout career at Louisville.
Joseph said there was never any thought of promoting Jonathan Williams from Denver’s practice squad this week when the New Orleans Saints signed away the former Arkansas running back to bolster their already stout backfield. The Broncos had been paying Williams $30,000 a week, almost as much as Siemian is making.
“We’ve got four healthy backs right now, including a fullback, so we have five in the room,” Joseph said. “So we had no room.”