The Broncos have challenged Paxton Lynch to be a leader in his second year. But does he have it in him?
Its without much argument that the quarterback of any NFL team needs to be seen as one of its leaders. The quarterback is an extension of the coach, the lone voice in the huddle before the ball is snapped who draws the most criticism — or praise — depending on how the team performs.
For better or worse, a quarterback gets too much credit when a game is won and too much when a contest ends in defeat.
Leadership was one of the topics new head coach Vance Joseph spoke to in a recent press conference. In assessing his two young signal-callers, Joseph touched on the subject of Paxton Lynch and his development in becoming a starting-caliber NFL quarterback.
“Paxton is a young guy with great talent, but playing quarterback in the NFL has a lot more (to it) than talent,” Joseph said. “It’s leadership, whether you like it or not, it comes with leadership obligations. It comes with studying in it and understanding the systems.”
It’s especially telling when you consider that in the same press conference, Joseph told media that he saw Trevor Siemian as a great leader among his teammates and that those same players reciprocated that respect. In short, it’s hard to ignore the physical talent that Lynch possesses and its equally difficult to look past the command that Siemian seems to have over the offensive personnel.
However, its important to understand what leadership is, especially within the context of a football team. You can be the most vocal guy, like a C.J. Anderson or Emmanuel Sanders, but that doesn’t always classify as being a good leader.
You can be the most physically talented or accomplished, like team-appointed captain Demaryius Thomas, and still not be the guy everyone sees as the undisputed head of the team.
It’s been my contention since the departure of Peyton Manning that the offense, despite having talent and strong personalities, has a leadership deficit, save maybe at center. It’s an overlooked reason why the team finished 9-7 last year and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years.
As with any physical attribute, like size, speed or instincts, a football player either has the qualities to be a leader or they don’t. Even though they may make strides in being more vocal or holding people accountable for mistakes, leadership as a trait is almost as hard to find as it is a franchise quarterback. It’s that same situation that the young Lynch is facing now.
Peyton Manning was a great leader, even with his skills eroding and his body deteriorating in his last season. There wasn’t anyone in the huddle with him who wasn’t willing to run through a wall for the future Hall of Famer.
The same went for DeMarcus Ware on the defensive side of the ball, who had a way of talking to teammates that made them want to play better in spite of themselves or their own limitations.
Its unfair and unrealistic to say that Lynch needs to be like Manning for the Broncos to get back in the title hunt next year. On the same hand, he can’t be content with being just the quarterback on the team. Starting this year, Lynch needs to show he has the potential to be the man.
It’s a step in the right direction that he took to Twitter to welcome his new teammates during the first round of free agency. It’s also encouraging that he is working with a quarterback coach during this offseason in order to better compete for the starting job this year versus Siemian. All those things are good steps toward being the consummate leader the Denver Broncos are in need of at the most important spot.
Even if Lynch beats out Siemian and becomes the starter, will he have the ability to go into the fourth quarter of a close game and pull the contest out of the fire? Will Lynch have the necessary leadership qualities to put the team on his back and will them to a victory when everything is working against them that day?
Answer those questions, big as they are, and Denver could have found its next franchise cornerstone.
For as commendable a job as Siemian did during his first year as the starter, nobody gushed about his poise or demeanor when Denver faded down the stretch. Lynch will meet that same fate if he can’t get Denver over the hump. If nice guys are a dime a dozen, Lynch will need to prove he is worth more than that.
Despite being a second-year player, he will need to have the conviction to stand up to the strong personalities of players like Sanders and Anderson and get everyone on the same page. The team has to understand that Lynch is the guy they have to answer to when they drop a ball in crunch time or miss a key assignment that leads to a turnover.
Lynch doesn’t have to be fiery like Brian Dawkins to be a great leader, but he can’t be comfortable in quietly going about his job either. He doesn’t have to gather the team around him and get people fired up like a Drew Brees but the team has to be confident in Lynch having the ball with a game on the line. It’s a fine line to walk but it’s imperative that Lynch finds that balance.
The good news is that he is taking those steps and coaches are already challenging him to go out and make it happen. In turn, Lynch is responding to that challenge well and doing the things he must to return the coaches’ confidence.
If Denver is to take its place among the AFC’s best this year, the performance and leadership of Paxton Lynch will go a long way toward determining it.