The Carolina Panthers don’t want us to call Thursday night’s season opener a rematch and that seems like a reasonable request.
Not because Denver defeated Carolina in Super Bowl 50 and associating the new season with that loss would be too painful. Vindication won’t be won with a win in Week 1.
No, the reason to disconnect those results from whatever happens Thursday wears No. 13 for Denver. He was a seventh-round draft pick in 2015 (the 250th player selected) and he’s the new starting quarterback, replacing future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning.
His name is Trevor Siemian, also known as “Who?”
He’s the kind of QB who gives Kirk Cousins’ fans reason to fear that Washington’s front office views their guy as replaceable. If the defending Super Bowl champs can go from a legend under center to a guy without a single regular-season pass attempt, any team might feel comfortable rolling the dice with a great unknown.
We’ve seen this script before from defensive-minded teams. They just want a caretaker who won’t mess up things for the real difference-makers. Move the chains, avoid turnovers, manage field position, score a few points and let the defense take over from there.
Except the Broncos think Siemian can really play. He beat out eight-year veteran Mark Sanchez and prized No. 1 draft pick Paxton Lynch by exhibiting command of the offense, remarkable poise and a strong, accurate arm. He first impressed coaches and teammates during last season as the scout team QB, using that time to demonstrate his own ability while mimicking the likes of Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady.
Now Siemian is one of them, a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Can’t tell whether that says more about his promise at the position or the league’s paucity at the position. The Broncos are providing a chance to prove himself with their regular offensive playbook – opposed to a scaled-down version – and he’ll have the ability to audible if not construct new plays from scratch like his predecessor.
“We have to give (Siemian) freedom, we have to let him play,” coach Gary Kubiak told reporters. “Obviously if you’re talking about a Hall of Famer, that package may be a little bit bigger. But Trevor’s a smart kid; that’s one of the reasons he’s got himself in this position because he’s able to handle a lot.
“It’s going to be up to him to make sure he gets us in the right situations and we also have got to help him get us in the right situations.”
It’s somewhat amazing that Siemian finds himself in this situation. He was completely underwhelming at Northwestern, finishing his four-year career with 27 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in 14 starts. As a senior, he didn’t even crack the top 10 among Big 10 quarterbacks in passer efficiency. Three of five personnel evaluators recently polled by NFL.com said they didn’t bother to write scouting reports on Siemian prior to the 2015 draft.
Only six players were selected after him. He’s also among the handful of under-normal-circumstances Week 1 QBs drafted later than the fourth round (Tom Brady and Tyrod Taylor, sixth; Ryan Fitzpatrick, seventh; Case Keenum and Tony Romo; undrafted).
Siemian’s unlikely ascension makes for a great story. But NFL players are more interested in teammates’ performances, not plot lines. You don’t hear any New England Patriots envisioning a Hollywood shocker like Jimmy Garrapolo being to Brady what Brady was to Drew Bledsoe.
Veterans don’t care if you’re a No. 1 pick or Mr. Irrelevant. If you can help them win, they’re all for you. If not, they’d rather you hit the bench or waiver wire.
The Broncos have seen enough of Siemian in practices and the preseason to believe in him.
“I like Trevor,” Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall told reporters. “I liked him last year; I was telling people that I think he can be good. His accuracy is really good. He’s poised. I think he’s really calm. I think he’s confident. He has like a quiet confidence about him, so I’m looking forward to seeing him play.”
I’m looking forward to seeing everyone as the NFL season finally gets underway. Broncos-Panthers have the stage to themselves Thursday night and Siemian can gauge himself the defending MVP, Newton, while perhaps taking advantage of Carolina’s young cornerbacks.
No more exhibitions and dress rehearsals. No more Manning or Brock Osweiler. No more talk about Wentz beginning his career as a Week 1 starter.
The offense barely resembles the unit that prevailed against Carolina in Super Bowl 50, but the Broncos are Siemian’s team now. He’ll begin the effort to cement his hold against the Panthers.
To most of us, the game appears to be a rematch from February. But it’s bigger than that for Siemian and the Broncos.
It’s not a continuation of their last game.
It’s the commencement of his first.