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Klee: Denver Broncos defense on Paxton Lynch: Thumbs-up

By: Paul Klee
May 24, 2016 Updated: May 25, 2016 at 6:23 am
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CENTENNIAL — The first rule of the New Quarterback Club is you don't talk about the New Quarterback.

You don't discuss how Paxton Lynch flicked a 25-yard laser to Jordan Norwood, through tight coverage, as though he were flicking a quarter. You don't celebrate his long touchdown to Jordan "Sunshine" Taylor, or the way he came across as a comfy veteran while smothered by a dozen cameras and media horde with eyes only for him. You don't overanalyze him.

Why? The New Quarterback Club is smart enough to know it's dangerous to make sweeping, concrete statements after a guy's first day of practice.

The Broncos' defense, on the other hand? Those are some bad dudes waiting on some big rings. They can say whatever they want, because Super Bowl 50.

"Just from the first day, you can tell he (Lynch) has a swag about him," safety Darian Stewart told me Tuesday.

"From watching him, he looked great to me," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said.

"Everything they said about him was on display," cornerback Bradley Roby said.

Who knows if Lynch is Aaron Rodgers or Akili Smith? On his first day of OTAs, Lynch already achieved the impossible: He impressed the Broncos' defense.

The Broncos' defense is football's version of a Vail sommelier or a soccer superfan: Nothing is good enough for their expensive taste and, nevermind, you just wouldn't understand. They hand out compliments as often as they hand out first downs. Only the cockiest bunch would give itself a nickname, and here was the "No Fly Zone," on the edge of the Dove Valley practice fields, lathering praise on a rookie quarterback as if Denver's No. 12 was actually New England's No. 12.

"Just from Day 1, my first time seeing him, he has what it takes," Stewart said. "He has the arm strength. He's a good athlete. He's smart. It's just about staying consistent, and let's keep working."

After a pause and with a subtle grin, Stewart added, "And we're going to make him work."

Oh, that's another thing about the Broncos' defense: It doesn't play favorites. Each of the four defenders I spoke with after Tuesday's workout applauded Lynch's eye-opening start — and then added the requisite disclaimer: "We were very vanilla," "it's just the first day," "we don't have our pass rush yet," and "you don't want to get too excited." Those were some of my favorites.

But two things happened that suggest Lynch, who played mostly with the second and third teams, will assume the starting role sooner rather than later:

1. Mark Sanchez was there. Surprise! After undergoing thumb surgery, Sanchez wasn't expected to participate in the first round of organized team activities. But there's something about competing with a 6-foot-7, 245-pound, first-round draft pick that encourages rapid healing.

"It's no big deal," Sanchez said of his left thumb, which was protected by a black brace and prevented him from taking direct snaps in drills. Say what you will. Sanchez wants this.

2. When you see it on the field, the Broncos' defense remains a virtual all-star team, even without Von Miller (contract dispute) and DeMarcus Ware (back injury). How did the Broncos form the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense? Smart roster building and Wade Phillips top the list, but don't forget the impact of the quarterback who is being succeeded.

During Peyton Manning's heyday, the Broncos' defense had two options: Get better, or get run off the practice field by the 18th Airborne's passing attack. There were times when Manning made the Broncos' defense look like a defense from the wacky WAC. He once celebrated a quarterback sneak by spiking the football in front of Denver's linebackers, a move that ruffled feathers on the defense, which had no choice but to improve or risk its pride.

"In the past, man, he (Manning) made it very hard for us every day," Harris told me. "Now it's our turn to make it hard for these quarterbacks, make it hard for the offense to catch those guys up."

"We're going to apply pressure no matter who the quarterback is," Stewart said. "Going against the No. 1 defense, he's only going to get better."

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun stood side-by-side with close friend Gary Kubiak as the Broncos hosted their first practice since Super Bowl 50. All eyes were on Lynch.

"As a rookie, nothing really matters what you did in college. You come here and it's a clean slate," Lynch said. "You're on the Super Bowl champs. I have no rank around here. I'm a first-round draft pick, but who cares?"

The best defense in the NFL cared enough to say it was impressed with a rookie. That's something.

What's the second rule of the New Quarterback Club? Get the NFL's best defense in your corner. 

Touchdown, Paxton Lynch.

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Twitter: @bypauklee

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