DENVER — Russell Wilson will soon make his first start as a Bronco.
It remains to be seen who will serve as his backup.
After a competition that spanned the length of the offseason program and preseason, Brett Rypien and Josh Johnson had a final chance Saturday to stake their claim for the Broncos' reserve role behind Wilson.
Rypien, who made his first start of the preseason, completed 14-of-21 passes for 137 yards and an interception and led the Broncos to 10 first-half points. He finished the preseason with a 67.7 percent completion percentage and an 85.5 passer rating. Johnson, meanwhile, completed 11-of-14 passes for 107 yards and a 98.5 quarterback rating as he guided Denver to a pair of second-half field goals. The veteran quarterback finished his three preseason appearances — including starts in the first two games — with a 66 percent completion percentage, two touchdowns and a 97.1 quarterback rating.
"I give so much credit to both those guys," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "They came in here, they learned a brand-new system — both of them — and they have bought in, they've understood what we're trying to accomplish, they understand the intent of all the plays we're trying to do, and you can see that with that with the efficiency that we've had. I think we only had that one pick today that was down in the red zone. Besides that, they were great with the football in their hands. They were efficient. I haven't seen the stats, but I think we got a solid amount of completions and I think that's what you're looking for from both of those guys. So it's going to be a hard decision to see where we go with that. Both guys have worked hard. It was great to see 'Ryp' come out and earn that opportunity to start and he did a fine job, too, moving the ball."
The Broncos kept just a pair of quarterbacks on their initial 53-man roster in 2021, which means the team could part ways with one of the players ahead of the roster deadline on Tuesday.
Both players believed they have stated strong cases for the role.
"I know I've done enough," Johnson said. "I've done enough as a quarterback in this league. I feel like I've proven myself to be a dependable guy. My play speaks for that. I've played in so many different systems, so many different offenses. I just feel like I'm in a good rhythm of playing quarterback. It's evident on the tape. But at the end of the day, it's not my decision. So I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to enjoy what's right now."
Added Rypien: "My first three years, I still haven't made the team out of camp. These next couple 48 hours is just going to be a lot hurry up and wait. For me, tonight was all about controlling what I can control. I thought I did a really good job of that and stayed in the present moment out there and made plays. Ultimately, I'm very happy with how this camp went, and now it's in their hands."
Johnson, a veteran who has played for more than a dozen teams, has experience serving as the reserve quarterback for a couple of playoff teams. Rypien, though, believes he's also ready to accept that responsibility if it's awarded to him.
"I feel very prepared," said Rypien of serving as a backup for a team with championship aspirations. "I think that starts with Russ and just the standard that he set throughout the building. That's something that I'm willing to live up to. I've always been a hard worker — consider myself a hard worker — but you can just feel the energy in the building, where we're going, where this team is going. I want to uphold that every single day."
Soon enough, the Broncos will decide on a second-string quarterback. As Hackett said after the game, the decision will not be easy.
ON THE EDGE
The Broncos' pass rush was busy on Saturday, as the defense combined for five sacks in the team's win. Second-round pick Nik Bonitto notched the final two quarterback takedowns of the game — and earned his first sacks of the preseason in the process.
"Especially throughout the preseason, I know I've been getting kind of close to the quarterback and it just hasn't gone through," Bonitto said. "Just finally getting one tonight definitely helps my confidence."
Bonitto said after the Buffalo game that he was thinking too much on the field at times, but he and at least one of his older teammates believe this performance can serve as a building block.
"It's huge, man," Bradley Chubb said. "It's huge just to get that confidence up going into the season. I was teasing him before. When 'Tre' [Dellarin Turner-Yell], his college teammate got one I was like, 'Don't let him get more than you.' And then he went and got two on the same drive. To see him respond like that, to see him go out there and get that confidence up, the smile on his face, it's dope to see."