But McDaniels apparently liked what he saw in Orton's assimilation to the offense over the last several months to give the three-year veteran the edge for now, stressing there was still time for Simms to wrest away the job.
He informed Orton of the news Friday night, and the former Chicago Bears quarterback took all the snaps behind the first-team offensive line during Saturday's practice.
"There's a lot of difficult aspects about what we ask our quarterback to do in our offense and Kyle has really grasped some of them more quickly than Chris did," McDaniels said in explaining the move after the second day of a three-day mini-camp at the team's Dove Valley headquarters.
"I just think it puts them in a little bit of a pressure situation where now one of them has it and has to keep it and the other one has to get it," McDaniels added. "They're still going to compete with each other and I expect the competition to be the same that it's been. They both have great attitudes and know that nothing's determined in June."
Orton completed 272 of 465 passes for 2,812 yards with Chicago last season, throwing 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He's appeared in 33 games during his three-year pro career after starting at Purdue University.
Like Simms, he's had to adjust to a new team and offense on the fly. But he's also demonstrated less rust than Simms, who hasn't played since Week 3 of the 2006 due to complications from a ruptured spleen while playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I'm obviously really excited," said Orton, who was a key piece to the Cutler deal that also included four high draft picks. "It's really just the beginning for me in this offense and hopefully I'll continue to improve every day and get the offense where we need to be come the season."
Orton admitted that it's been difficult trying to find a comfort level in McDaniels' offense and that he's had good and bad plays along the way.
That was evident Saturday, when Orton had interceptions run back for scores by cornerback Jack Williams and outside linebacker Robert Ayers. But Orton also lofted a perfect sideline pass into the arms of rookie running back Knowshon Moreno in tight coverage.
"Kyle's extremely underrated," Simms said. "I've always felt that way. He was underrated in college and with the Bears. He throws the ball very well. He's a smart guy. He's a big guy. There's a lot of plusses with Kyle."
Still, just because Orton's now the No. 1, he's sure it's not an undisputed title.
"I need to keep on playing well," he admitted.
Simms wasn't surprised that McDaniels' decided to make the news public now instead of waiting until training camp.
"We can't both go in there as 1A and 1B," he said.
During his four-year career, Orton is 505 for 913 passing for 5,319 yards with 30 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. He's started 30 of the 33 games in which he's appeared with Chicago.
"He's a very poised quarterback," Broncos running back Correll Buckhalter said. "I feel that once he gets this system totally down that he's going to be a field general for us."
Notes: Wide receiver Brandon Marshall was once again a no-show at mini-camp, one day after a face-to-face meeting with team owner Pat Bowlen that did not include McDaniels. Marshall is unhappy with both his contract and what he considered a misdiagnosis of a hip injury last season and has been working out on his own in Orlando, Fla. "Hopefully it'll all end up the way we want it to end up with him on the field here," McDaniels said. "If and when Brandon's out here with us, it'll be great." Bowlen declined comment. ... Starting right guard Chris Kuper is getting married this weekend and is excused from mini-camp. Backup center Kory Lichtensteiger also was absent Saturday while attending a wedding.