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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The first time Trevor Siemian entered a competition to be the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback, he was the ultimate underdog — a seventh-round pick with just one kneel-down on his NFL resume.

But he emerged from 2016’s three-man race victorious and played decently.

The second time he fought for the job, he was the front runner as the incumbent starter after going 8-6 last season. Still, a skeptical Denver fan base took to talk radio and social media to express firm support for Paxton Lynch, the team’s 2016 first-round pick and a player Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-general manager John Elway handpicked and traded up to acquire.

Still, Siemian prevailed. He has supplanted a journeyman, Mark Sanchez, whom the Broncos signed because of his experience and twice defeated Lynch.

“I had a shot coming in and, for me, that’s all I needed,” Siemian said.

But how exactly did he twice manage to emerge atop the depth chart while playing for two coaching staffs and in two different systems?

Current and former coaches and teammates say it’s a credit to Siemian’s mental acuity — both in the classroom and on the field — underrated athleticism and a low-key leadership style that earns respect.

“He is a great connector. He connects with everybody,” Mick McCall, Siemian’s college offensive coordinator at Northwestern, told USA TODAY Sports. “It doesn’t surprise me that people continue to follow him and try to do things for him.”

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Even after starting 14 games last year, Siemian faced obstacles. It began in January, when the coach who was his biggest cheerleader, Gary Kubiak, retired. Later that month, Siemian had surgery to repair a lingering injury in his left (non-throwing) shoulder.

New head coach Vance Joseph hired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who was expected to bring an offense with more spread elements, shotgun formations and downfield passes that could have favored Lynch, who is more mobile and has a stronger arm than Siemian.

But installation of the new offense might have worked in Siemian’s favor because of his ability to process it. When offseason practices began in the spring, it was clear he had a better grasp on McCoy’s playbook and carried that consistency into training camp practices in July and August.

“I think it’s more of how to attack from a schematic standpoint. That’s Trevor. That’s Trevor putting us in the right spots … and knowing exactly what Mike McCoy would check to in a matter of 13 to 15 seconds,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.

“I’ll tell you what, I think those two guys are going to continue to gain camaraderie and pick each other’s brains apart to understand what Trevor likes and understand exactly what Mike is thinking. I think that’s when this offense is going to take off to a whole different level.”

While Lynch’s athletic ceiling might be higher than Siemian’s, Joseph said he’s been impressed with Siemian’s arm strength and has no concerns that he can make all of the throws in McCoy’s scheme.

“I think Trevor gets no credit for his arm talent,” Joseph said. “So I’m excited about Trevor, protecting him more than we did last year, running the football better and continue to play great defense. I think he fits the bill for us.”

When Joseph called off the 2017 quarterback derby last week, he declared Siemian the permanent starter. Still, it is conceivable that regardless of how Siemian plays, Lynch — he sprained his shoulder after losing the competition, adding injury to insult — would get another shot to win the job in 2018. 

That’s what makes this season so important for Siemian, while playing for a team that still has a championship-caliber defense. If he plays well, he can force the Broncos into a difficult situation next offseason, when he would become eligible for a contract extension.

“I have a long way to go,” Siemian said. “I know where I can get better. I also know some of the things I can do well.

“For me, even going back to when I came in the league, I try to do a good job of taking it one day and rep at a time. At the end of the season, I’ll go back and figure out where I’m at and go from there.”

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Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones

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