ENGLEWOOD — Hey, remember that time Super Bowl champion and professional flamethrower Aaron Rodgers brought the Green Bay Packers into the "No Fly Zone"? What did he have, 88 passing yards?
“I believe so,” Broncos safety Darian Stewart said with a grin on Tuesday. “Something like that.”
So how are 23-year-old Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian, 25, supposed to perform against a defense that munches future Hall of Fame quarterbacks like an afternoon snack?
“I feel like they should relish that, look forward to that,” cornerback Bradley Roby told me next to the practice field at the UCHealth Training Center. “I look forward to going against E (Emmanuel Sanders) and DT (Demaryius Thomas) every day. Win, lose, draw — I know I’m getting better. That’s how they should look at it.”
Here’s how I looked at it Tuesday as the Broncos opened their mandatory minicamp: Teeing off at Erin Hills in front of a U.S. Open gallery would be an easier task than Lynch and Siemian’s. Von Miller’s pass rush and the No Fly Zone’s relentless trash-talking are every bit as overwhelming as the rowdies who won Super Bowl 50 and kept the Broncos afloat last year. While there’s been a growing sentiment that Lynch is closing the gap on Siemian for the starting job, I haven’t seen it. But none of our opinions matter. One way we’ll know the QB race is over is when the “No Fly Zone” is bent out of shape from Lynch or Siemian getting the best of them.
Hasn’t happened yet. Under a bluebird sky at Dove Valley, the air traffic cops left the practice field with jokes, smiles and ready and willing for interviews with media. After a bad day at the office, they scoot past at top speed, as if Elway's steakhouse is catering lunch.
This was another good day for the defense, another we-got-work-to-do day for the offense.
“When I see a clear separation, I’ll call it off,” coach Vance Joseph said of the QB conundrum.
Listen close for what the defense says, too. While the “No Fly Zone” is paid handsomely — at $43.1 million, only Seattle’s secondary is scheduled to earn more in 2017 — these cornerbacks and safeties are on another level because they value pride even above their paycheck. Imagine something that digs under your skin worse than anything else; that’s how they feel about losing.
“Aqib’s (Talib) out there talking trash. So is Chris (Harris), so is Von,” Lynch said.
“(We're) working snap counts, which you’ve got to do against this group or they’ll eat you alive," Siemian said.
The No Fly Zone is territorial, protecting its turf like a mama goose policing Wash Park. It was Harris who gave the perfect example of how the secondary became a unit worthy of its self-appointed nickname. On the same night he accepted an award as the Denver Athletic Club’s athlete of the year, Harris was engaged in a full-on Twitter battle with some poor media outlet that claimed the NFL’s best pass defense resides somewhere other than Colorado.
“I don’t even know any DBs on their team,” Harris said Tuesday after hearing the New York Jets' secondary had dubbed itself the No Fly Zone.
It’s going to be a crying shame if the Broncos can’t figure out their offensive woes in 2017. Position groups as cocky and fun to watch as the Broncos’ secondary come along once every few decades.
“Even though we don’t have pads on, you feel those guys breathing down your neck almost every rep,” Siemian said.
Here’s a funny anecdote. This quarterback competition that dominates airwaves even while the first-place Colorado Rockies are turning Coors Field into the place to be? It hasn’t even started yet, according to the head coach.
“It’s going to be won on the football field, in the preseason games,” Joseph said.
The No Fly Zone is proof these guys read their press clippings. A few weeks back when Joseph declared that Lynch had enjoyed his best practice of the offseason, the defense took notice and promptly turned up the heat.
“We take it personal. Any day they say the offense comes out and wins that bothers us,” No Fly cornerback Bradley Roby said. “We look at it as a loss. We want them to say, ‘Hey, defense. Y’all killed today.’”
Did the defense kill it on the first day of minicamp?
“No, we did not kill today,” Roby said. “They got a couple deep balls on us.”
It’s a start. Here's another clue, courtesy of Peyton Manning. Early in his time here, on a sweaty August day at Dove Valley, Manning called a bootleg that fooled and totally ticked off the defense. Then he spiked the football.
You should have seen the defenders rip off their mouth guards and swear his name to the high heavens. When an offense led by Lynch or Siemian feels brash enough to give it right back, Colorado will know it has its quarterback.
“I’m getting there,” Lynch said when asked if he’s comfortable trash-talking motormouth Aqib Talib. “But I’m going to hold off for now, until I get a couple big plays and build my resume up a bit.”