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Elway: Vikings game was a ‘wake-up call’

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Starting fast is not as important to John Elway as playing well. But he’d like to see his team’s offense play a lot better. Like the rest of us.

Minnesota Vikings v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Training camp has officially ended and so has the euphoria that comes with the early beginnings of a new season, a new crop of athletes and new optimism.

Now it’s all business.

And Broncos’ GM John Elway was all business in his news conference to wrap up the final session - which was the second joint session with the Bears - and he had a lot to say (and not say) about his team.

From the practice field to the playing field

Elway reiterated Vance Joseph’s concern about not getting off to a fast start during the game against the Vikings, but he emphasized that his bigger interest is just in the team playing well.

“I’m not overly concerned about the fact that we didn’t take it this week because the vets knew they were going one series or two series. What I would like is to see us take a little bit more pride in what we did, and say, ‘Listen, we want to get off to a good start.’ We didn’t do that, so that was the disappointing thing,” Elway said, adding that he wants to see the team start preparing for the upcoming preseason games as they will for opening day. “The starters have to play. They’ve got to start getting ready and the mindset has to now get to the point that we’re here to get ready to play that opening game against Seattle.”

The GM also thought the Vikings game was a bit of a wakeup call for the veterans.

“I think it was a little bit of a wake-up call that first game, realizing that we had to take it from the practice field to the playing field,” Elway said. “As much as we didn’t want that hiccup, it was probably a good hiccup for us. We’ll see how we take it from the practice field to the playing field.”

Step No. 1 - a ‘better offense’ than last year

Although the main goal is to win games however the Broncos can, Elway didn’t hesitate to say he’d like to see the Broncos “play better than we did last year on offense. I think that that’s step No. 1.”

And whether the Broncos are still primarily a defensive team is fine, but Elway would like more balance.

“To be a great football team, you’ve got to play good defense and you’ve got to have something offensively that you can move, put points on the board and not beat ourselves,” he said. “That’s where I’m excited with Case. He does a good job so far with taking care of the football. Hopefully we can continue to grow and get better offensively and play as good of defense as we have in the past.”

Elway’s confidence in the offense is bolstered somewhat by the running game, which he anticipates will be more explosive this season with rookies Royce Freeman, David Williams and Phillip Lindsay showing promise.

“We’re only one game through it, but we feel good about that room and the guys that we have in that room,” he said. “The young guys are stepping up. The playing time will be invaluable for them because of the youth that we have in the room, so we’ll continue to work on that.”

The former quarterback has also been impressed with rookie wide receiver Courtland Sutton, but he isn’t ready to hand out accolades just yet.

“He’s been good in camp, but he’s a rookie,” Elway noted. “I say the same thing all the time: preseason is a different animal than he’s used to seeing. It was good for him, especially for our young guys, to see different helmets and then get into the preseason, but we also know that it’s a step up once we get to the regular season.”

The key will be being patient with some growing pains but knowing that the rookies and other young players will have to get up to speed pretty quick because the team will need them.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys that we’re going to lean on this year, so they’re going to have to grow up fast,” Elway said. “I think they’re all off to a great start, but we’ve got to continue to see them getting better, and also knowing that with each step and being young, we’re going to have to be patient with them too. It’s a growing situation.”

The offense is also going to need to rely on tight ends to be successful, and Elway is hoping Jeff Heuerman can stay healthy long enough to live up to his third-round pick four years ago.

“We have high expectations because he has a lot of talent. Hopefully we can keep him healthy,” Elway said. “He’s struggled with some injuries, but he’s very talented and he wants to be a good player and he wants to be on the field. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy and keep him out there, because we think he can be a guy that can be very helpful at tight end.”

The Quarterbacks

Overall, Elway is happy with his new starting quarterback, but the Hall-of-Fame QB didn’t hide his lack of enthusiasm over the less-than-stellar start to the preseason.

“It’s been good. I was hoping to get off to a better start than we had the first week in preseason, but it’s been a good week of practice and Case has had a good camp,” Elway said. “Hopefully, we dig in a little bit more this week and get off to a better start.”

But of course the big quarterback question for Elway has nothing to do with the starter. It’s all about the backups, which now showcase 2017 seventh-round draft pick Chad Kelly at No. 2 and 2016 first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch at No. 3.

Elway acknowledged Kelly’s talents and that he had earned the right to move up on the depth chart, but the GM wasn’t ready to give much more than that. He expected Kelly to play well, but he expects it to be easier for Lynch this week too getting to go against a third-team defense.

“It did not surprise me, the way Chad played. He played very well. He’s got good instincts,” Elway said. “He deserved the chance to play with the twos this week.”

Elway seemed to indicate that watching Lynch take on the threes and Kelly take on the twos against the Bears this weekend should provide a fair comparison of where the two quarterbacks are.

“We’re going to see Paxton against their thirds too. It’s the same role, it’s just reversed,” he added. “I hope Paxton takes advantage of it and goes out and plays well.”

As for the qualities Elway would like to see in the team’s backup quarterback, the primary one is being able to come in and win games.

“Somebody that can win football games. I think that’s the key thing. The backup is a guy that you have confidence in that if something were to happen to your starter, that he has the experience and the ability to come in and help you win a football game,” Elway said, adding that a backup has to be physically and mentally ready all the time without having a lot of playing time. “As hard as it is to find a starter, it’s just as hard to find a guy that can back up. We’re always looking for those.”

For those reasons, Elway is definitely not ready to anoint Kelly as the true backup QB yet, nor is he is willing to tip his hand on whether he wants a veteran backup in the mix.

“We’ll wait through this week and see what happens and go from there. I feel like we still have time. At the end, guys continue to take their reps and we’ll go from there,” Elway said, refusing to answer a question about what it would mean for Lynch if he didn’t become the backup. “I’m not going to get into the hypotheticals right now. We’ll cross that bridge—we still haven’t played two preseason games yet. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.”

‘Kaepernick had his chance’

Elway also declined to entertain the idea of seeking out Colin Kaepernick as backup.

“I said this a while ago - Colin had his chance to be here. We offered him a contract. He didn’t take it,” Elway said. “As I said in my deposition [regarding Kaepernick’s case against the NFL] ... he’s had his chance to be here. He passed it.”

Several media outlets made this quote their headline story (damn you, clickbait) and some even tried to compare it to Elway offering Brock Osweiler a contract a year after turning down an offer for a major contract to stay with the Broncos.

Let’s just get a few things clear here (and in full disclosure, I am not one of the people against Kaepernick playing in the NFL, but let’s be real - it is not happening in Denver, and it was a baiting question to ask):

Anyone who understands John Elway knows he is not going to want a political distraction on the team - and at this point, Kaepernick would be one.

Comparing this to the Osweiler situation is near fraudulent. Osweiler was available for vet minimum because Cleveland was paying most of that bill, so it was a win-win for Elway - he had a cheap vet who knew the system and the coaches. Neither of those is true with Kaep in Denver.

C’mon, sports media, find a different angle.