Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy gave an indifferent shrug Monday when told the Denver Broncos had named little-known Trevor Siemian their Week 1 starter against Carolina on Sept. 8.
That was the reaction from most of the Panthers’ defensive players and Ron Rivera, who recited the coaching axiom that Carolina would prepare more for the Broncos’ offensive system than for a particular quarterback.
While that might be true, Monday’s announcement by Denver coach Gary Kubiak that Siemian had beaten out first-round pick Paxton Lynch and veteran Mark Sanchez for the starting role sets up an interesting storyline for the Super Bowl 50 rematch in Denver.
The Panthers will go from facing future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning in February to a guy whose only NFL snap came on a kneel-down against Pittsburgh last season in Week 15.
“It don’t matter who’s back there. Peyton Manning was back there last year. They had somebody in there after Peyton Manning left. ... I don’t care,” Ealy said. “It’s my job just to go out there and make his job very, very hard. I don’t know anything else other than doing that.”
Rivera said he had no background with Siemian, who was the 250th overall pick (out of 256 total) in last year’s draft. In that regard, Rivera said he was “just like everybody else” in not being familiar with Siemian.
He said, however, the Panthers’ coaches and pro scouts have a good idea of what to expect from the Broncos with Siemian at the helm.
If it’s anything like their Super Bowl gameplan, which featured a heavy dose of the running game and mostly short to intermediate passes from Manning, Siemian might be asked to serve as a game manager.
“Maybe that’s what it is again. You never know,” free safety Tre Boston said. “The league knows how our defense plays.”
The Panthers’ defense put the clamps on Manning in the 24-10 loss, limiting him to 141 yards on 13-of-23 passing, sacking him five times and intercepting him once.
Ealy was responsible for the interception and three of the sacks in a dominant performance that likely would have earned him MVP honors had Von Miller not come up with two strip-sacks against Cam Newton that resulted in 15 points and were the difference in the game.
Ealy said he’s proud of his performance in Santa Clara, but knows it has no bearing on next week’s opener.
“It’s great to be in the same sentence as that guy,” Ealy said. “But other than that, I’m moving on.”
The Broncos lost their top two quarterbacks from last season in a 48-hour span in March when Manning retired and Brock Osweiler signed with the Texans. While Lynch and Sanchez received the bulk of the media attention, Kubiak was impressed with Siemian’s knowledge of the offense and how he carried himself in the huddle.
Siemian didn’t put up crazy numbers during the postseason, throwing for 285 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 70.4. His year in the Broncos’ system behind Manning and Osweiler seemed to serve him well, though.
“We have to go out there knowing he’s been able to watch film on a legend,” Boston said. “So you can’t just go in there thinking, ‘Oh, this guy -- never heard of him.’ You’ve got to go in thinking he is Peyton Manning because, guess what, he’s been watching nothing but film of Peyton Manning and exactly how to do it.”
Boston said he’s been watching film of Siemian and praised his mechanics. Without any regular-season tape of Siemian, Rivera said the Panthers might even dig up tape of him at Northwestern, where he had a 7-7 career record as a starter before tearing his ACL late in his senior season.
Siemian had tossed 11 interceptions with seven touchdowns when he was injured.
The Panthers -- while not overly concerned with Denver’s quarterback choice -- also weren’t publicly dismissing Siemian because of his dearth of experience.
“Obviously he can get the job done and they’re starting him for a reason,” defensive end Mario Addison said. “For me, I really don’t focus on who’s back there as quarterback, unless it’s Russell Wilson because he’s a running quarterback. ... I’m just focused on the guy I have to go against to get to the quarterback.”