ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since owner Pat Bowlen hired John Elway to return to the Denver Broncos, the organization’s plans have largely come together.
After all, there have been five consecutive AFC West titles, two Super Bowl trips and a Super Bowl 50 victory in February. Through it all, players have come, players have gone, the Broncos have even switched coaches, and yet the wins keep coming.
But now with what seemingly would be plenty of benefit of the doubt in the bank, many in the league look at what has happened at quarterback for the Broncos and wonder what plan was on the drawing board for Elway this offseason.
That's because the team's quarterback depth chart consists of a guy who has started 10 games in the past two seasons combined in Mark Sanchez, a guy with no career starts in Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch.
Yet Elway and Broncos coach Gary Kubiak like their situation behind center a lot more than you or most anyone else does. Although Peyton Manning retired this past March to close out a Hall of Fame career and Brock Osweiler left for far greener financial pastures in Houston, the Broncos trust that things have still gone according to Elway’s plan.
"I think that’s true," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said recently. "Elway, Coach Kubiak and the guys in the locker room, we’ve seen those guys work, we see our defense, we see our team. We think we can win. What other people say, that’s all stuff we don’t really listen to."
Or as linebacker Brandon Marshall put it: "Last year, every Sunday we put in work, we won the Super Bowl. This year we’re ready to put in work again, we’re ready to be a team that wins. Positions don’t win, man, teams win. We’re a team."
There it is: The bottom line of the coming season for the Broncos. If Elway and Kubiak are right, someone out of the group of Sanchez (whose teams are 4-2 in his six playoff starts), Siemian and perhaps even Lynch will emerge as a productive, consistent starting quarterback, and the Broncos will be a playoff team again.
But if Sanchez can’t rise above some of the ill-timed mistakes that have happened since he began his career with two appearances in the AFC Championship Game, or Siemian doesn’t continue his ascent, or the Broncos have to rush Lynch, they'll be another team that leans too hard on its defense with a running game that too many defenses would be prepared for.
"But we like our quarterbacks. We like what Mark’s done, his progress. We like what Trevor’s done, and we like Paxton as a young guy we targeted in the draft that we wanted," Elway said earlier this offseason. " ... I think sometimes people look at things like the sky is falling. We like the team we’re putting together. ... Pat Bowlen wants this team to be in position to compete every year, and we think we’re doing that."
The defense should be key to that again. The Broncos, whose veterans report Wednesday, with the team’s first full training camp practice on Thursday, potentially have 10 starters returning from the league’s No. 1 defense in 2015. They also believe they will run the ball significantly better than they did last season, with a crowded depth chart at running back and a revamped offensive line.
And they believe that their trip through the postseason to a Super Bowl win, with victories over a quarterback honor roll that included Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton, will matter. The Broncos also showed toughness, putting together 11 victories in 2015 by seven or fewer points.
"Once you win it, you see what it takes," Marshall said. "Before you win it, you think you know what it takes, and you do to a certain extent. But when you win it, you see what kind of commitment it takes from everybody, nobody can waver. I think that’s why teams that win it, if they stay together, are tougher to beat. They know what it’s like to be the last one standing."