Column: Rams and Broncos are not rushing rookie quarterbacks into action

Rams quarterback Jared Goff unloads a pass against the Broncos on Saturday night.
(Justin Edmonds / Getty Images)

Broncos in February: Eat our dust.

Broncos now: Pardon our dust.

While it’s an exaggeration to say Denver’s NFL team has gone from Super Bowl to Superfund site, the Broncos unquestionably are a franchise under construction. They will be the first team in 15 years to switch starting quarterbacks in the immediate aftermath of winning a Lombardi Trophy.

The Rams know the feeling — not the Super Bowl afterglow but the under-construction part. Los Angeles and Denver, who met in an exhibition game Saturday night, have two of the NFL’s most uncertain quarterback situations. Both teams have first-round rookies at the position who are teeming with talent but so far are adjusting to the step up to the NFL.

In his road debut, against an elite defense, the Rams’ Jared Goff had some highs and lows after replacing Case Keenum early in the second quarter. Goff slid awkwardly on a third-down scramble and came up short of the first, was late on a couple of his passes when his receivers took shots, and survived a near-pick-six that was dropped by safety Darian Stewart. But Goff also looked more comfortable and fluid than he did in the first two games, and completed a 19-yard pass down the middle to fellow rookie Pharoh Cooper, who made a highlight-reel catch.


On the Rams’ first possession of the second half, Goff was hit hard from behind by outside linebacker Dekoda Watson, who badly beat tackle Darrell Williams around the edge. Later in the third quarter, Goff was driven into the ground after throwing. Sean Mannion replaced Goff late in the third quarter.

Incidentally, lots of people are working through some early-season hiccups. The public address announcer in the Denver press box opened by informing the media: “The Broncos have won the toss and have chosen to defer. St. Louis will receive...”

Mistakes happen, and old habits die hard.

For the Rams and Broncos, the pressing issue is young quarterbacks. For different reasons, each team has the luxury of time to develop its first-year passer. They are not approaching this like a two-minute drill.

The Broncos bought themselves time because of their immediate past. They are basking in the warmth of a Super Bowl victory, and a season built around a smothering defense and quarterback play that was well beneath Peyton Manning’s standard. Coach Gary Kubiak has some breathing room to start second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian, as he did Saturday night, while rookie Paxton Lynch gets up to speed. Veteran Mark Sanchez, whose turnover problems have resurfaced, is looking less like a starting option.

Siemian played the entire first half for the Broncos, and followed an interception and a touchdown. Lynch started the second half and led a 41-yard scoring drive on Denver’s opening possession.

Like the Broncos, the Rams have also bought breathing room by leaning on their past — but in a different way. They have returned to Southern California after two decades in St. Louis, and that fresh start ensures that fans are going to come to the games and fill the Coliseum, at least during this honeymoon period. The reported attendance for the exhibition opener against Dallas was 89,140, a preseason record for a game played in the U.S. (Multiple games played in Mexico have drawn more than 100,000 people.)

Although there is pressure on Coach Jeff Fisher to win — he’s never done better than 7-9 in his four seasons with the Rams — there’s also an understanding that he’s got a Goff, one still adjusting to the NFL, and is in the NFC West, which with Seattle and Arizona is the league’s toughest division. Even though Fisher would feel the heat if the Rams were to do a face plant out of the gate, there’s a strong likelihood he will get a contract extension before the Sept. 12 opener.


Before the Cowboys game, I argued in this space that the Rams should make Goff the starter, give him the reps with the first-team offense, and basically follow through on their bold move to trade up and get him. The jury is still out on that. While Goff showed flashes of being the player the Rams think he’ll be, he also had rough outings in the first two exhibition games, with an interception and two fumbles that ended three of his first four possessions.

Fifth-year veteran Keenum, meanwhile, has looked more solid than spectacular, but certainly good enough to win some games. He completed eight of 12 passes for 77 yards against the Broncos, and was knocked halfway to the Broncos bench while running out of bounds by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness.

History says the Rams won’t be rushed to get Goff out there. They took their time with defensive tackle Aaron Donald two years ago, waiting six games before starting him, and he wound up the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year. And last season, running back Todd Gurley, rehabilitating a reconstructed knee, won offensive rookie-of-the-year honors despite not starting until Week 4.

Yes, the past five quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall started from Day 1 — Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston — but their teams, respectively, were coming off seasons of 0-16, 1-15, 2-14, 2-14, and 2-14. The Rams were 7-9 last season, and made the biggest jump up to the top of the draft in NFL history. They swept Seattle last season and won at Arizona, so this isn’t a team starting from scratch.

Fisher and Rams General Manager Les Snead have repeatedly said they refuse to rush Goff onto the field before he’s ready, and they’re not going to live by artificial deadlines to force him into the starting lineup. The unusual story of the Rams’ return, and all the hype surrounding it, to some degree has afforded them the ability to take their time.


In L.A., as in Denver, fans are much more willing to tolerate a marginally satisfactory situation if they know a promising solution is in the works. For instance, there would be a lot more complaints about the Coliseum — insufficient and outdated when the Raiders left 22 years ago — absent the anticipation of a glistening new Hollywood Park stadium in 2019.

The Rams and Broncos have identified their quarterbacks of the future. But these are in-progress construction sites. Not just helmets, but hardhats, too.

Rest assured, Denver is still awash in orange. Only now it’s all traffic cones and caution tape.