ENGLEWOOD | Not even the signing of free agent Case Keenum could keep the Broncos from staging yet another quarterback competition this offseason.
This time it’s a battle for the backup job.
After bypassing a quarterback in a draft that was deep on passing prospects, general manager John Elway declared that Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly would duke it out for the No. 2 job.
That served as a vote of confidence in Lynch, his 2016 first-round pick who hasn’t been able to win the starting job, and a golden opportunity for Kelly, “Mr. Irrelevant” in 2017 as the last player picked in the draft.
“With Paxton, we still think he is young. We are not kicking him to the curb. He can still develop. When we drafted him two years ago, we knew it was going to take some time,” Elway said. “Paxton is going to compete with Chad for that backup spot. We are not going to bring another one in for OTAs.”
That marked the first time Elway had publicly mentioned Kelly as having a chance to win a roster spot a year after missing his entire rookie season while recovering from wrist and knee surgeries.
“I thought of it as, OK, perfect, I can get more reps,” Kelly said Saturday after serving as the only quarterback during a 90-minute walkthrough that capped the Broncos’ three-day rookie orientation. “I just look at it as another opportunity to get better each and every day and each and every rep.”
Kelly’s offseason work habits have resulted in a reshaped body.
Kelly said “eating a lot of spinach and chicken paid off instead of fried food. … I came here and knew I needed to move around and get back to my old playing weight back in early college and high school. So, I’m kind of feeling I can move around and so some things with my legs but also be powerful in throwing the ball.”
Kelly has impressed both on and off the field.
“Well, I’ve been proud of Chad overall,” coach Vance Joseph said. “I mean, he’s been here every day. He’s worked his butt off. And he’s changed his body. Last year he was a little tubby kid. He is really lean now. He’s eating right. He’s working hard. He’s definitely put the work in.
“And he’s throwing the ball really well right now.”
So much so that bare hands are a bad idea for receivers, suggested tight end Jake Butt.
“He can rip that thing now,” said Butt, who also sat out his rookie season. “You’ve definitely got to wear gloves. He’ll be spinning that bad boy pretty tough. He’s learning the offense, he’s taking leadership, he’s doing a great job.”
Joseph insisted Lynch was handling himself fine, too.
In March, the Broncos declared Keenum the starter as soon as he signed. In April, they said Lynch would have to beat out Kelly for the backup job.
“I think Paxton’s done a good job, also,” Joseph said. “I think for Paxton and for our football team, it’s been a weight off all of our backs to have a starting quarterback and have everyone’s role defined from Day 1.”
He said that allows Lynch to “relax and get better each day and not worry about a competition.”
Joseph suggested Lynch could learn how to handle adversity from Keenum.
“Case has been through some ups and downs throughout his career. So, he can learn from Case on how to handle those things,” Joseph said. “And it takes time to be an NFL quarterback. And you would hope with Case being here, he can sit back and relax and get better as a quarterback and not worry about being the guy right now and just compete to be our backup.”