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Woody Paige: Quarterback guru Charlie Taaffe likes what he sees in Denver Broncos' Paxton Lynch

July 30, 2017 Updated: July 31, 2017 at 8:54 am
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Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch throws the ball in the second half of a preseason game against the 49ers in Denver on Saturday, August 20, 2016. The Broncos lost the preseason game to the 49ers 31-27. photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

The Beatles had Yogi; Luke Skywalker had Yoda; Socrates had Plato; Van Goh had Gaugin; and Paxton Lynch has Charlie.

Throughout history and fiction apprentices have trained under, relied on and returned to their mentors, sages, savants.

For Peyton Manning, the guide-guru always was David Cutcliffe, his offensive coordinator at Tennessee in the 1990s. Even his late 30s, Peyton sought out Cutcliffe, the Duke coach, for advice, emotional support and suggestions for refining his passing techniques after multiple neck surgeries.

The symmetry of Peyton and Paxton is peculiar in ways. Both Southern-born and football-bred, they share those eerily similar first names; they are quarterbacks; they played college football in the state of Tennessee; each was picked in the NFL draft's first round, and Paxton said hello to the Broncos only weeks after Peyton said goodbye.

Peyton finished among the greatest quarterbacks ever.

Paxton is still beginning.

Peyton started 265 regular-season games of the 266 he played. Oddly enough, his one non-start was his last regular-season game.

Paxton has played in three games, and started two.

Paxton aspires to become Peyton, and John Elway.

First, though, he must earn the right to play regularly for the Broncos.

Paxton was off to a grand start in training camp in The Clash of The Broncos QBs with Trevor Siemian. He made heads turn like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist" with his passing and his running, and made people gasp over his grasp of the Broncos' new offense.

Nobody is more excited than Paxton's own combination of Yoda, Yogi and Cutcliffe - Charlie Taaffe, who has been a quarterback, a coach and a teacher/tutor of quarterbacks for a half century.

"Paxton's physical talent is through the roof," Taaffe told me on Friday afternoon by phone from suburban Orlando, Fla. "In order to take the next big step, he needs to channel that natural ability and challenge himself to be great in the mental aspects of the pro game.''

Taaffe is biased, of course. He's been working with Paxton the past two offseasons and, specifically, three days a week leading up to camp at Dove Valley. But he also is objective in evaluating Paxton's performance.

The innovative Taaffe has coached every kind of offense at several American colleges and in the Canadian Football League, from the military academy Wishbone to the pro-style Air Coryell. He retired as offensive coordinator with the University of Central Florida after the school had a remarkable rise to 12-1 and an upset over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. He has coached 100-plus college quarterbacks. His last was Blake Bortles, who he recruited the same years as a Florida high school quarterback named Siemian (who chose Northwestern).

Taaffe, who "couldn't stay retired," took over a year-round development program (Quarterback Country) in Florida in 2014. Paxton is his prize pupil.

He said Lynch's dramatic improvement is the result of four principal facets:

- Paxton's elevated confidence. "Last year was a difficult transition. After the offense he was accustomed to (at Memphis), to be truthful, Gary Kubiak's West Coach Offense was so complex for any rookie quarterback, and he had never played QB under center. A year of practice and some experience in the pros have made a big difference.

- The Broncos' new offensive philosophy. "Paxton loves coach (Mike) McCoy and Bill Musgrave and this offense. More shotgun, more freedom, a playbook that really fits Paxton's skills. It's really lifted the level of his game. And he's having fun and seems more relaxed."

- A modified passing method. "We compacted his throwing motion. We shortened his cocked-arm release point and focused on getting the ball off quicker and tighter. I think it's really made a big difference. He's sharper and stronger now on his short seam patterns. He already has a great overhead throw - like an Aaron Rodgers."

- Changed footwork. "Coach Musgrave also told Paxton his stride was too extended. That's a problem with tall quarterbacks. (Paxton is 6-foot-7). So we shortened that stride on the front (left) foot. He's got the muscle memory on his arm motion and his foot stride now."

Coach Charlie, as he said, has done his job. Player Paxton has to, as Yoda said, "do or do not. There is no try."

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