CHARLOTTE – For a game that is being touted as the biggest rematch from a season ago, there's one glaring, integral cog missing from the Denver offense – their five-time NFL MVP quarterback, Peyton Manning.
He'll be at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Thursday night to celebrate the Broncos' banner raising ceremony, but it will be second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian taking his place under center in his first career NFL start.
He played in Denver's first three preseason games and won the job after completing 27-of-43 passes (62.8 percent) for 285 yards and a touchdown. With only one interception against the Rams, he had an average quarterback rating of 70.4 in those games before taking in the fourth game from the sidelines.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly is impressed with what he's seen on tape.
"You can see a little bit from the preseason what he's able to do," Kuechly said. "I think he's smart; I think he's confident in what he's doing, and they do a good job of running the ball – that makes everything easier. I think he has a good grasp of what they're trying to do offensively, and we have to make sure we're prepared for it."
Success is not unprecedented for the Broncos' seventh-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Siemian assumed the starting role at Northwestern in 2012 during his redshirt sophomore season, eventually leading the Wildcats to their first bowl victory in 64 years with a 34-20 victory over Mississippi State in the 2013 Gator Bowl. By the time Siemian's college career was complete, he had thrown for 5,931 yards (fourth most in school history) in 44 games, completing 550-of-934 attempts (58.9 percent) for 27 touchdowns.
Last season, Siemian was the third-string quarterback behind Manning, and Panthers know that time wasn't wasted.
"He's a great ballplayer," free safety Tre Boston said. "He might be fresh, but all the film he's watching is of Peyton Manning. When you're watching a guy like Peyton Manning, you're getting told exactly what to do.
"We expect him to do a good job, do what he has to do and play through the coaches."
Although there may not be much film of Siemian available for the Panthers' coaches to evaluate, they're optimistic that it will prove valuable, especially when paired with film of Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak's offenses in Baltimore and Houston.
"I think there's still some things that, when you have a new quarterback coming in, you have to expose your offense, or some parts of your offense, to your upcoming opponents," said head coach Ron Rivera. "We had to do the same thing when we first started with Cam (Newton).
"There's some things that we are going to look at to estimate what we could potentially see Thursday night."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game at Denver.