The primary question of any backup quarterback is this: Can he keep the team's hopes afloat for a handful of games if he is called upon?
With an experienced No. 2 quarterback, that is less of a concern. When the Broncos had backups such as Bubby Brister in the 1990s and Steve Beuerlein in the early 2000s, there was scant need to worry.
During a six-season stretch from 1998 through 2003, in which they had to start their backup quarterback at least once each season, they had a better winning percentage in games their second-string quarterback started and finished (.667, 12-6) than in games started by their No. 1 quarterbacks (.621, 46-28). (The Broncos also lost all four games when they were forced to turn to a third-team quarterback in that span.)
Experience like what the Broncos had in that era is not something the Broncos possess behind Joe Flacco, with rookies Drew Lock and Brett Rypien and four-year veteran Kevin Hogan. Among them, they have one career start, made by Hogan in 2017 for the Browns. He threw 101 passes over two seasons in Cleveland.
But he feels like Denver offers something different -- something he has not experienced as a pro.
"I felt like I made huge strides last year with this organization and I was practicing pretty well," Hogan said in March. "Then I looked at how the San Francisco quarterbacks developed under [Offensive Coordinator] Rich [Scangarello] and [Quarterbacks Coach] T.C. [McCartney]. They played three quarterbacks last year and they all did real well.
"I had the opportunity to talk to [49ers quarterback] Nick Mullens and he was raving about these guys and how they coached him and really helped him."
Hogan is on his fourth NFL team; he passed through Kansas City, Cleveland and Washington before joining the Broncos last year, one day after the 53-man roster deadline. In March, when he hit the market, he felt re-signing with the Broncos was his best option, even with Flacco aboard and rookies certain to arrive.
"For me, it's about being in a situation that's best for me. I'm going into Year Four, and I haven't necessarily been in the right situations until I got out here," he said. "I've grown to love this team and this city. I just want to continue to grow."
Hogan's experience was enough to get him the bulk of the second-team repetitions this spring, and he made an impression on Head Coach Vic Fangio.
“He looks much improved from what I remember," Fangio said during OTAs. "I think he’s done well. I think he’s an improved quarterback from my last look at him which was a couple of years ago.”
Thus, the question looming over Lock and Rypien is this: Can either one of them prove that their potential outweighs the experience that Hogan does bring?
Lock received a smattering of repetitions with the second team and sometimes worked against the first-team defense during OTAs and training camp. Scangarello, Fangio and the other coaches can be patient with him. If Hogan keeps faring well, they can afford to give Lock time. But what they want to see from their second-round pick is the ability to ensure that a mistake doesn’t repeat itself.
“Honestly, that would be my approach with any player," Scangarello said during OTAs. "Nobody is perfect. You only know what you know. I think he’s playing the hardest position on the planet in any sport. It takes time and you’re going to make mistakes.
"You have to bank that rep, you have to learn from it and you have to try and not go back into those types of mistakes in that territory and keep moving forward.”
If Lock, Rypien or both make enough steps to earn the trust of their coaches, Hogan could be out of the mix. But if the rookies prove unready to handle the burden of filling in for a few games, Lock could be the third quarterback, with Rypien a practice-squad candidate.