Sean Payton Praises All 3 Quarterbacks Competing For Broncos Starting Job

Denver Broncos quarterback Bo Nix, right, confers with quarterback coach Davis Webb, left while taking part in a drill during an NFL football rookie minicamp practice Saturday, May 11, 2024, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Denver Broncos quarterback Bo Nix, right, confers with quarterback coach Davis Webb, left while taking part in a drill during an NFL football rookie minicamp practice Saturday, May 11, 2024, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos closed out their first week of OTAs Thursday with coach Sean Payton praising all three quarterbacks competing for the starting job and cautioning that nothing should be read into the order in which they take snaps.

“We try to split up all the reps,″ Payton said. “There’s going to be a time when you read into the reps, I don’t think it’s early in OTAs.”

Jarrett Stidham is technically the incumbent, having started the final two games last season, but he'll have to beat out two first-round picks in rookie Bo Nix, the 12th player and sixth quarterback selected in last month's draft, and Zach Wilson, the second-overall pick in 2021 by the New York Jets, who traded him to Denver last month.

Asked about Nix's progress so far, Payton said: "Good, he’s farther along than most would be. We’re talking about a player who’s played 61 games (in college). He’s extremely smart. He’s picked it up very quickly.″

Nix worked with the starters Thursday after Stidham got first-team reps Tuesday and Wilson worked with the No. 1 unit Wednesday.

Stidham has started four games in four NFL seasons with the Patriots, Raiders and Broncos, backing up Tom Brady, Derek Carr and Russell Wilson.

“Having two new guys in the room, this is the first time I've been the vet in the room,” Stidham said. Otherwise, he said, he's competing for a job just like he has every year he's been in the NFL.

Zach Wilson went 12-21 as the starter in New York and was deemed expendable with Aaron Rodgers returning from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in last season's opener. Wilson said he's eager to play in Payton's system, which he feels will bring out the best in him.

“They're all in a race to learn this system,” Payton said. “Man, they're doing well.”

Each was superior in his own way Thursday when Stidham showed a grasp of the offense befitting someone with a year's head start, Nix deftly handled the pressure of the pass rushers and Wilson showed off his arm strength.

“You know, it's kind of the orphan group,” Payton said. “They're all orphan dogs. They come from somewhere. But they're doing good.”

Wilson, a proud owner of two Siberian huskies, chuckled at the metaphor.

“We've gone through it, right? You can see why," Wilson said, adding that for him, "it's been three years of tough challenges. But in the end that's what makes you stronger and you just need somebody to believe in you and believe in yourself.”

The Broncos have rolled through 13 starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning retired after Denver won Super Bowl 50 in 2016.

At a banquet honoring his community involvement Wednesday night, Manning called Payton's system “extremely quarterback friendly,” one he said he would like to have played in during his Hall of Fame career.

“It sounds like they got great competition over there," Manning said. “That’s always good, makes everybody better.”

Manning goes back a long way with both Stidham and Nix, who as youths participated in his family's passing academy. Although he doesn't know Wilson well, Manning reached out to him when he was traded to the Broncos.

“It's exciting,” said Wilson, who grew up in Utah, where the Broncos are popular. "I've grown up watching him and the way he plays the game, the way he attacks it every single day. And he's a legend out here. So, hopefully I can spend a little time picking his brain.”

Asked about Nix, Manning said that while there are exceptions such as Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, who bided their time on the sideline before getting their crack at starting, the quickest way for a rookie to get up to speed in the NFL is to take his lumps right away.

That's what Manning did in Indianapolis in 1998 when he threw 28 interceptions — a rookie record that still stands — and suffered through a 3-13 season that was followed a year later by a 13-3 campaign.

“There’s no way that would have happened had I not played and kind of gone through those struggles,” Manning said. He added that his brother Eli told him he learned more from the seven games he started as rookie than from the nine he watched.

Payton was asked about his thoughts on starting a rookie QB right away and said one of the many factors that go into that equation is how quickly the newcomer can pick up the offense.

"I think some of it is a byproduct of what you have in the building. If you have a starter in the building then that’s the path you go, and sometimes you don’t have that luxury, then that’s the path you go,″ Payton said. “A lot of it is dependent on the quarterback, his mental makeup.″