CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Otto Graham.
He is the last Northwestern quarterback to start an NFL season opener in 1955. If Trevor Siemian takes the care of the ball and continues on his development arc, he is expected to join Graham on Sept. 8. Siemian remains set up to take over a defending championship club, winning over teammates with his composure. Unflappable. Calm. Poised. Smart. These are just some of the adjectives used to describe Siemian.
Let's start at quarterback -- why change now? -- in this installment of Take 5 questions entering the week three dress rehearsal against the Los Angeles Rams.
1) What does Siemian need to do?
He must stay the course, and show his right shoulder is healthy. And, of course, protect the football during his two-plus quarter outing. There seems to be little question from the coaches and players that Siemian exhibits leadership qualities. Siemian must avoid the big mistake, which he has done for a month, save for one pass to San Francisco's Eric Reid last week. Siemian has yet to be sacked. And hasn't fumbled. What will be interesting is how the Broncos adjust if the Rams' elite front seven commits to stopping the run. Siemian can check down. But will he drive the ball downfield if the opportunity presents itself? That's the next stage of his development.
2) Who will follow Siemian, and does it matter?
Rookie Paxton Lynch is going to play. And whether he follows Siemian or plays the entire fourth quarter, his reps are meaningful. Perhaps Mark Sanchez receives a few first-team reps, but Lynch is poised to become the backup. In fact, it feels like Siemian is keeping the seat warm for Lynch as a transitional quarterback. Lynch has impressed in his work under center, and is coachable. It has shown up at practice, making Sanchez expendable. Sanchez's salary ($4.5 million) and draft pick compensation (seventh-rounder to Eagles if on the roster) muddle his future in Denver.
3) What's up with the offensive line?
Lost in their defensive rage against opponents, the Broncos ran the ball well in last season's second half. They averaged 4.6 yards over the final eight games, a top-10 mark, compared to 3.7 per pop in the first half. C.J. Anderson committed to a different offseason plan, and it has helped. Forget easing into the season, he looks ready to go from jump with Devontae Booker as his backup. But Anderson needs help upfront. Left tackle Russell Okung is expected to play at least a quarter on Saturday. His performance can't be overstated. If he's good and healthy, the line boasts stability. That leaves only right guard as a question mark. Michael Schofield will start Saturday followed by Connor McGovern, who like most rookie lineman, could use more seasoning. Journeyman Darrion Weems, a former tackle, is the favorite to take the spot in the Sept. 8 opener, but remains in the concussion protocol. There's no reason to think Ty Sambrailo will be ready by Sept. 8, though he could figure into the mix later in the month.
4) Virgil Green, then what at tight end?
Gary Kubiak's offense runs off the tight end position. Having two functional players at the spot allows multiple plays to look the same in the run and pass game. Virgil Green blossomed in training camp. He's a lock, and should improve his blocking this season with improved health (A broken finger that required multiple surgeries prevented him from gripping linemen last year). Jeff Heuerman was supposed to be an X-factor. Yet, he remains a great unknown because of a hamstring injury. He hasn't practiced in a few weeks and it's unclear if he will be ready for season-opener. That leaves John Phillips, signed as a street free agent during camp, to serve as the backup. Veteran Garrett Graham is unlikely to make the team after missing multiple weeks with a shoulder injury.
5) Who will distinguish themselves on special teams?
The punting competition remains open between veteran Britton Colquitt and rookie Riley Dixon. Colquitt's been solid. Dixon has had issues as a holder for kicks. Can he make up ground? For me, it's not worth the risk. Just go with Colquitt. Former Colorado State running back Kapri Bibbs is trying to hold off Ronnie Hillman for a roster spot. Special teams could be the determining factor. Bibbs is more versatile. I still wonder if Hillman can be traded for a late-round pick. In the return game, Jordan Norwood is the favorite to return punts and kicks (I would like to see Hillman return kicks). Kalif Raymond and Bralon Addison will get reps in the return game, but have yet to make a case to stick.