DENVER — John Elway stood behind his offense on Monday.
Not with discourse.
The Broncos’ newly-elevated president of football operations chose to get up close, and rather personal, to his offensive unit before the team’s trip to Santa Clara, Calif., before the two workout and the exhibition with the 49ers.
Perhaps Elway should have a man-to-man, heart-to-heart, tete-a-tete conversation with Paxton Lynch before departure.
This week is Lynch’s last chance to make a great impression if he wants to be the Broncos’ starting quarterback.
Assuming Trevor Siemian doesn’t suffer an injury or a meltdown, he will be the No. 1 QB at Mile High stadium against Aaron Rodgers in the last serious exhibition on Aug. 26 and the first regular-season game against Phillip Rivers on Sept. 11. Then, in the second game, Siemian and Dak Prescott, the quarterback the Broncos considered drafting, and could have and maybe should have, will be matched in Week 2 in Denver.
And Lynch would be relegated to watching all four of the other quarterbacks.
If Lynch is to be the Broncos’ quarterback, he needs at least a motivational phrase from Elway, the former quarterback of all quarterbacks.
Remember Jan. 2, 2012.
In a phone interview, I asked Elway, who was completing his first year as vice president of football operations, if he intended to speak to young quarterback Tim Tebow before the Broncos’ playoff game against the Steelers that weekend.
No, Elway said, indicating he didn’t want to muddle with Tebow’s preparation or his mind. So I said: "What would you tell him if you did talk."
"Pull the trigger" was Elway’s response.
Those three words became the National Football League story of the week, and the mantra for Tebow – who had become the most famous and provocative player in the game because of his actions, words, religious beliefs and incredible story-book season.
As the person on the other end of the line, I know that John hadn’t rehearsed his response. He was just telling the truth as he knew it.
After Tebow played well in the second half of a home game against the Chiefs and nearly brought the Broncos back to victory, he took over for Kyle Orton as the starter. And the Broncos won seven of the next eight. However, they dropped the last three games. Tebow, I said to Elway, "seems to have lost his confidence and has been tentative, or fearful, of throwing the football."
Elway replied: "That’s human nature, especially when you’re young, to become more cautious . . . The key thing for (Tebow) is to go out, put everything behind him, go through his progressions and pull the trigger."
That was the money moment.
After my column was published, and "pull the trigger" went viral, Tebow, when he was asked by a media scrum for his thoughts about Elway’s comments, agreed fully with his boss.
In his first postseason game, Tebow "pulled the trigger" and threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns – the second an 80-yard reception-and-run by Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime that gave the Broncos the victory over Pittsburgh.
(The next week the Broncos lost in New England, 45-10, and Tebow sustained rib damage while connecting on just 9 of 26 passes. It was the last game he ever played for the Broncos, and he started only two more games for the Jets in a three-year stint in the league. The Broncos signed Peyton Manning.)
So far, Lynch, the first quarterback drafted by the Broncos in the first round since Tebow, hasn’t resembled Elway (a No. 1 overall pick) or Manning (ditto) or even Tebow.
He’s looked more like Tommy Maddox, drafted in the first round of ’92 as Elway’s supposed future successor. Maddox started four games for an injured Elway that season – and lost all four. He was gone after his second year in Denver and was out of the NFL by 1997 (cut by the same coach who draft him – Dan Reeves). After playing in the Arena Football League and the XFL, Maddox did return to the NFL and played five seasons with the Steelers, starting 32 games and playing quarterback in the AFC Championship (loss to the Patriots).
Coach Vance Joseph said after Monday’s practice that he wanted Lynch, who will start vs. the 49ers and play a quarterback and a half and approximately 20-25 snaps, to "relax" and "have fun" and "throw (the ball) around." Good advice, but not "pull the trigger."
Will Lynch be one-season wonder Tebow, drifter Maddox, a bust or a boom? Too early to determine.
But Paxton won’t be named the starter if he doesn’t have commit to a course of action and aggressively pursue – "pull the trigger" – on Saturday night in the stadium where the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.