When the Denver Broncos' 2011 post-lockout season began, the undeniable primary point of contention among fans, media, and others following the team was the battle between Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. While Orton had proven to be a reliable starter through the previous two seasons, Tebow — one of two Denver first-round picks in 2010 — had captured the attention of the fan base in ways that few rookies could ever claim by performing well after Orton suffered a rib injury late in a lost season for the franchise.
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The team's new administrative duo of executive vice president of football operations John Elway and head coach John Fox initially made the decision to try and trade Orton to the Miami Dolphins, a move that eventually failed for a number of reasons. Denver teammates talked about the "Tebow thing" and how it could affect the team — the perception that in backing the younger player, the Broncos' brain trust could be sending the message that the end goal was less about winning now and more about franchise development over time — not what your current players ever want to hear.
But with Orton remaining in Denver at least for the short term, there was an unforeseen factor ready to make the team's quarterback choices a bit more varied and confusing. While the Orton-Tebow debate raged on, third-string quarterback Brady Quinn, the Cleveland Browns' first-round pick in 2007, surprised just about everybody in creation by having a remarkable training camp.
And in Denver's 24-10 win Saturday over the Buffalo Bills, the Broncos reversed the order of appearance post-starter, leading to widespread speculation that Quinn had leapfrogged Tebow on the depth chart, both now and in future. The on-field performances seemed to bear this out. After Orton finished an outstanding first-half performance (10 of 13 for 135 yards and a touchdown), Quinn followed with nearly equivalent stats (10 of 16 for 130 yards, a touchdown and an interception). Tebow, for his part, got some mop-up duty with one 10-yard pass in two attempts.
Quinn showed some of his physical limitations in the performance — he's not a strong-armed passer and tends to push the ball at times — but for a head coach in Fox who once made it to the Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme as his primary starter, pure physical attributes aren't always the most important. Command of the offense may be point one.
It's not known for sure that Saturday's appearance order will manifest itself in the Broncos' long-term depth chart — preseason spots are notoriously variable and coaches will try just about anything in a compressed-timeframe season such as this one — but the quarterback that most fans would love to see at the top of the pecking order seems to be falling the wrong way.
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- Tim Tebow
- Kyle Orton
- Brady Quinn