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Getting to know Broncos’ unflappable QB Trevor Siemian

John Kryk

By John Kryk, Toronto Sun

Denver Broncos' Quarterback Trevor Siemian scrambles against the Dallas Cowboys in the third quarter of a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sept.17, 2017 in Denver, Colo. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Denver Broncos' Quarterback Trevor Siemian scrambles against the Dallas Cowboys in the third quarter of a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sept.17, 2017 in Denver, Colo. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

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Some top-level quarterbacks motivate and lead teammates with their emotional toggle switches all flicked up to free-flow.

You’ve seen them do it on TV for years — the Bradys, Favres, Mannings, Kellys. They psych everybody up before getting the ball back. Scream at them when they play like crap. Exult with them after a great play. Cry with them after a heart-ratcheting defeat.

Then there’s a guy like Trevor Siemian, who in his own quiet way has led the Denver Broncos to a 2-0 start. He’ll lead them Sunday afternoon into Buffalo’s New Era Field to take on the 1-1 Bills (1 p.m. EDT, on CTV Toronto-Kitchener-Alberta via CBS).

Heading into Week 3, Siemian is tied with Detroit’s Matthew Stafford for the league lead in touchdown passes, with six. The only QBs with a better passer rating than Siemian’s 106.9 are Minnesota’s Sam Bradford, Kansas City’s Alex Smith, Oakland’s Derek Carr, Stafford and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Siemian’s third-down passer rating (113.1) ranks seventh.

Yes it’s early. But for Siemian, a second-year starter, it’s all representative of another promising September.

Few NFL fans knew much about Siemian 13 months ago, when he surprisingly won the Broncos’ starting job, after the departures of Peyton Manning (to retirement) and Brock Osweiler (to free agency).

A year later, you probably still don’t know much more about the 25-year-old Siemian — the Mr. Unexcitable of the NFL.


Most who know him describe Trevor John Siemian as quiet. Some say he’s goofy. Others say he’s laid back. The consensus among those who either coached Siemian or played alongside him seems to be (a) they’re not surprised by what he has done so far in Denver, and (b) he’s one of the most unflappable football players they’ve ever been around.

It’s from the latter well that coaches and teammates, past and present, draw their deep respect for Siemian.

“With Trevor there were no highs and lows,” his college coach, Northwestern University’s Pat Fitzgerald, said this week in a phone interview from Evanston, Ill. “And he was like that every day — win, lose, interception, touchdown, starter, backup — he just didn’t get too high or too low. Ever.”

It’s not that Siemian is care-free. Or a flake. Or aloof in a Cutler-ish way. Whether you’d conclude he’s a bit dorky is beside the point. Teammates since high school like him, trust him, hang out with him and, on the field, rely on him because Siemian just doesn’t get worked up. Or down. No matter how high-pressured the circumstance.

And then, more often than not, he produces.

Bob Head, Siemian’s head coach for all four years at Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla., in a phone interview this week provided two stories that perhaps best explain his former prodigy’s own brand of poise.

“I taught this class at Olympia, and he’d roll right out of bed and come to school with hair that, I mean, looked like he’d been sleeping for 14 straight hours — looked like hell,” said Head, who now leads the West Orange High School program in Orlando. “One day he looked like that and I’m like, ‘Hey, Trevor! You’re the frickin’ starting quarterback at an 8A school. I’m going to have a hundred scouts out here looking at you today!’ And he’d be like, (in a calm but positive monotone) ‘Okay great, coach.’

“Me? I’d have been up two hours ahead of time, taken a shower, made sure I looked good and my hair’s just right. But he was all laid back and just, ‘Yeah, good coach. Perfect. I look forward to it.’ That’s it.”

One time during Siemian’s three years of starting for the Olympia varsity, Head wanted his team peaking emotionally when it clashed with rival Dr. Phillips High School.

“It was a really big game. And I said, ‘Hey, Trevor, you being the quarterback, I think it’d be huge if you opened up and talked to the guys right after Thursday’s practice, and give a little speech.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, coach. Anything you need. I’ve gotcha.’

“So he walks up in front of the team, and everybody’s on the edge of their seats. Eyes are open, nobody’s even blinking. You can hear a pin drop, okay? And all Trevor says is, ‘Dr. Phillips is a good team, but we’re a good team. We got this.’ And that was it! And I’m like … ‘Okay then. Break it down.’

“The bigger the situation, the calmer he is. He’s a man of few words, but I’ll tell you what, he’s a man of action. He went out there against Dr. Phillips and he played LIGHTS-OUT.”

Right. Don’t be fooled. Behind that laid-back nature is an intelligent, studious football player who’s fiercely competitive and unshakably confident, both Head and Fitzgerald insisted. It’s genuine too, they said -- and contagious.

“What you see is what you get with Trevor,” Fitzgerald said. “He loves football, and he is a great teammate. He’s just got a terrific attitude and work ethic. There’s no doubt he’s got that ‘it’ factor.”

And to hear Head tell it, Siemian has had "it" since Head convinced him to try out for football as a 6-foot-3, 180-pound freshman 14-year-old, whose favourite sport then was baseball.

“I can say he’s the most consistent player I’ve ever coached. And we’ve had some really, really good quarterbacks who have gone on to places like Florida State and UCLA.

“His teammates love him and he’s the same all the time. I always said, we could be up by 40 or down by 40, and you’d never know which by looking at Trevor. I mean, you couldn’t tell. He’s a pretty special breed of kid. I’m really honoured to have coached him all four years.”


Rivals.com ranked Siemian the 39th best pro-style passer coming out of high school in 2010. So why did he choose Northwestern? And why didn’t he become a star there?

The short answer is that his playing career in Evanston (2010-14, which included a redshirt year) was something of a disappointment for Siemian.

“He could have gone to a lot of schools,” Head said. “But Trevor was just so sharp. His dad’s a doctor, his mom’s a nurse. Choosing a school with strong academics was important to him, and he made a good choice.”

Siemian’s career overlapped for the first four years with that of Kain Colter, a smaller, speedier athlete (think of a skinner Julian Edelman). Colter was ready to play before Siemian, and better suited to steer the Wildcats’ base offence — a shotgun-spread, run-centric, college-style attack.

The first thing Siemian had to do at Northwestern was put on some weight; he was still a string-bean.

“He wasn’t the biggest kid but he was a very intelligent young man from a football standpoint,” Fitzgerald said. “He worked hard to put on muscle here. I’ve heard people say he’s not athletic. I thought he was pretty athletic for his size.”

Siemian had piloted a shotgun-spread, pass-crazy offence in high school — not nearly the same thing as Northwestern’s. Thing was, Colter was limited as a passer. And it seemed just about every time Fitzgerald would insert Siemian in 2011, 2012 or 2013 for an offensive change-up, or because Northwestern needed to move quickly through the air, Siemian came through.

But then Colter would start again the next week.

“Trevor told me at the time he was frustrated,” Head said. “But he’s not the kind of kid who’s ever going to sit back and dwell on it. He used it as motivation to drive him, and push him. He’d come back to Orlando and work his butt off. Every time he was home he was at our facility and just worked.”

After Colter graduated, Siemian became the unquestioned starter for his fifth-year senior season, 2014. Probably his career highlight was guiding the Wildcats to an early November upset of the No. 15 Fighting Irish, at Notre Dame, 43-40 in overtime.

One week later, Siemian tore an ACL on a quarterback sneak against Purdue. College career over. Final tally: 44 game appearances, but only 14 starts. Still, NFL scouts had taken notice of him.

“I just wish I could have redshirted him again,” Fitzgerald said. “No one in our program was more respected.”


Siemian couldn’t take part in the 2015 NFL scouting combine, just three months after blowing out his knee. Unable to throw for NFL teams, and with his playing status for his rookie season uncertain, of course Siemian’s draft stock plummeted. The Broncos selected him 250th overall with the seventh-last pick of the draft.

He rehabbed, watched and learned from the sidelines in 2015 as a sore-armed Manning and a sometimes unsteady Osweiler took turns QB-ing the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos.

When Siemian surprisingly won the Broncos’ starting job at the end of 2016 training camp — ahead of promising, rifle-armed, first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch and veteran Mark Sanchez — he was almost universally viewed as a place-holder. That is, after the just-retired Manning and until Lynch could quickly get up to speed at the pro level.

Siemian proved much better than a mere temp.

Through Week 7 last season, he threw eight TDs against only three interceptions, ranked 10th in passer rating and led the Broncos to a 5-2 record, good for a tie with Oakland atop the AFC West. Only the New England Patriots had a better record in the conference entering the last week of October.

But then the Broncos lost dual-threat running back C.J. Anderson for the year with a knee injury. Denver had averaged an adequate 97 rushing yards per game up to then, 16th in the league, but thereafter scrounged just 78 per game to finish 27th in the league. After Anderson’s loss, more pressure — literally and figuratively — fell on Siemian, and his efficiency unsurprisingly dropped, but not to any disturbing level: 10 TDs vs. seven picks over the seven (of nine remaining) games he was healthy enough to start.


An off-season shakeup in Denver this year saw head coach Gary Kubiak retire for health reasons, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison move on to Buffalo, Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph come in as Kubiak’s replacement, and freshly fired San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy come in as Dennison’s replacement.

New bosses, vastly different offence — a switch of focus from forever nibbling at the short flanks, to taking big-bite chunks down the field.

When Joseph announced early on that the starting-QB job was open again, all the smart money was on Lynch.

Siemian didn’t flinch. New offence? So what.

“Oh, he’s open to any offensive system,” Head said. “He doesn’t have any kind of ego. Whatever the coaches tell him to do, he’s going to do. He’s a soldier, 100%. If the coach told him, ‘Hey, we’re going to change the system today,’ he’d be like, ‘Okay, great.’ There aren’t a whole lot of kids who are as genuine as Trevor in that regard.”

Siemian shone in spring and summer practices in McCoy’s more aggressive passing schemes, probably more similar to his high-school attack than anything he’d played in since leaving Orlando.

Joseph named Siemian the starter three weeks before the regular-season opener — as much as a surprise to outsiders as it was the year before. Joseph underscored the appointment by saying Siemian was the “clear-cut” best quarterback on his team.

Head, observing from Florida, and still speaking regularly with Siemian, said he had little doubt his former pupil — who’s still 6-foot-3 but now weighs 215 pounds — would hang on to the job.

“One thing I can say about Trevor that maybe people don’t realize is he is a fierce competitor,” Head said. “He’s not going to give that starting spot up for Paxton Lynch — or anybody.”

On the first Wednesday of this month, Joseph announced that Siemian’s teammates — for the second straight year — had voted him an offensive captain. Write off the above breathless assessments of Siemian from former coaches as pure hyperbole if you want. Understandable. But you can’t fool grown men in an NFL locker room.

Broncos outside linebacker Shane Ray last November was asked how Siemian had earned his teammates’ respect.

“Win games,” he said. “When Trev is hot and that offence is clicking, we’re booming. Everything is working. We’re feeding off the offence, and they’re feeding off us.

“When Trev is on, it’s just magical out there.”

Siemian performed well two weeks ago in the Broncos’ Week 1 prime-time defeat of the Los Angeles Chargers. He absolutely killed it last Sunday, in picking apart the Dallas Cowboys’ defence for four touchdowns, on 22-of-32 passing.

Not that Siemian gloated about it afterwards. He seldom says anything really memorable. In news conferences, he does the selfless quarterback thing, redistributing praise for plays that worked, absorbing full blame for those that didn’t.

Head said if he wanted to, Siemian could go down every play in a game and explain what happened, and why. He’s been doing so for 12 years.

“That’s the thing that caught my eye the most at first, when he just started as a freshman,” Head said, “was how he was able to retain information. He just had a great knack of being able to improvise and hit the open man, and have great communication with the coaches to say, ‘I did this because of that.’

“For a high school kid, that young, as a freshman, with very limited football experience, to then play at such a high level and to make decisions so quickly — and relate to us WHY he did it so quickly — was pretty incredible.”

Siemian is far from a perfect passer. His accuracy in college was concerning: under 60% completions and he threw almost as many interceptions (24) as touchdowns (27). With the Broncos he’s 60.1% completions with twice as many TDs (24) as picks (12).

Is Fitzgerald surprised by what Siemian is doing as a pro? No. He said the one attribute that always stood out most about Siemian was his “football IQ.” To succeed in the NFL as a quarterback you must master a slew of pocket skills, which Siemian possesses.

“He really understood coverage concepts, and how to attack different coverages,” Fitzgerald said.

And yet already, Siemian has been labelled by some critics as the dreaded “game manager” type of NFL quarterback, one whose primary job is to just not lose you the game, while making mostly safe checkdown passes.

To hell with that, Head said. That’s not Siemian at all.

“I always tell Trevor to not read any of the press clippings that label him a game manager,” Head said. “I tell him he’s a stud.

“And he said, as unrattled as ever, ‘Ah, don’t worry, Coach. I’m not going to get caught up in anything. I’m not reading anything. I’m going to stay grounded.’”

PROFILE BOX

Trevor Siemian

BORN: Dec. 26, 1991 in Danbury, Conn.

RAISED: In Orlando, Fla.

HEIGHT: 6-foot -3

WEIGHT: 215 pounds

COLLEGE: Started 14 games at Northwestern, completing 59% of his throws for 27 TDs, 24 INTs.

DRAFTED: 7th round, 2015, by Denver Broncos

WEARS: No. 13

ROOKIE SEASON: While rehabbing college ACL tear, got in for only one play -- to take a knee at the end of a game.

LAST SEASON: Started 14 games, throwing 18 TDs vs. 10 INTs. Declined a Pro Bowl invitation to rehab injured left shoulder.

THIS SEASON: Tied for NFL lead with six TD passes.

JoKryk@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JohnKryk

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