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'Supporting the starter, to me it comes natural': Josh Johnson, set to compete for backup QB role, details keys to critical position

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The viability of a team's backup quarterback can make or break a season.

In 2015, the Broncos would not have earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC without Brock Osweiler stepping in to lead Denver to a 5-2 record as Peyton Manning recovered from injury. Home-field advantage proved critical that postseason, as the Broncos held off Tom Brady and the Patriots in a 20-18 AFC Championship Game win.

In each of the last three seasons, the Broncos have turned to their backup quarterback for at least three games, which has provided a frequent reminder of the importance of a No. 2 quarterback.

New Broncos starter Russell Wilson has missed just two games in his career and started 165 consecutive games to begin his career, but the importance of the reserve quarterback position remains. As the Broncos enter 2022 with championship hopes, a capable backup quarterback could be critical in keeping pace in a playoff or division race.

Josh Johnson, an NFL veteran of more than a decade, seems to understand how to approach a position in which tireless preparation rarely results in on-field snaps. And in Johnson's eyes, there's two elements to being a quality backup. The first comes via one's support of the starter.

"Supporting the starter, to me it comes natural," Johnson said Monday. "When your teammates do well and the team wins, we all win. That's what we're in this building for. That's the common goal. Everybody wants to win.

"… When it comes to supporting a teammate, I just feel like that's natural. It's really just finding out what Russ needs from me. And then once I find out what he needs from me, figuring out that mix that allows me to be my best self that still works well with what he needs to be his best self."

The other element, especially when there are few practice snaps to go around, may be more difficult.

"Just yourself knowing that you're one play away and … finding numerous ways to hold yourself to the standard [and] kind of tricking your mind," Johnson said. "You've got to feel like every play, if I'm going in there, I'm ready to go. … Everything's just got to be ready."

Johnson said he has a set of warmup stretches he performs on the sideline, and he likes to "play the game in my head" after receiving the play call. By running through the defense's tendencies, Johnson's able to "stay locked in."

In Denver, Johnson currently joins Brett Rypien as the team's options to slot in behind Wilson, and Johnson acknowledged he expects to compete with Rypien for the role.

"An opportunity to come compete for the No. 2 spot is something that I've been working and put myself in position to do with limited opportunity," Johnson said. "Just the conversation I had with Mr. [George] Paton, Coach [Nathaniel] Hackett, I feel like they recognized my skill set and what I can bring as the potential backup quarterback for this team and supporting Russell Wilson as well. All those things played a factor into it. I think it's a great fit for me. I'm excited at this point in my career. Still got a lot of football left in me, and I'm excited to be here and help this team get to where it's trying to get to."

And if Johnson is called upon to play, he believes Hackett's system should put him in position to succeed.

"I love it because it puts a lot of stress on the defense," Johnson said of the system. "Being able to attack the defense on the perimeter as well as the middle of the field, I just enjoy being in this system. To be able to get back into it, I think it's going to be a great thing for all of us. I'm just excited to see how we build it out here with Russ leading the way and us following suit right behind him. All of our skill sets fit the mold of what this offense really needs: athletic quarterbacks that can throw the ball downfield, play action and buy time as well as be a good decision-maker. That's pretty much why I'm excited, honestly. This is where my skill set is. This is where I feel like … I thrive most. I think that's reflected on my tape, as well."

While the Broncos surely hope their backup quarterback never sees the field, the presence of a solid backup quarterback can only be reassuring.

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