ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The debate over whether or not Tim Tebow is ready for this might just be moot.
Tebow is taking more snaps at practice with starting quarterback Kyle Orton nursing bruised ribs, and the rookie might even see his first extended action of the season -- if not his first start -- when the Denver Broncos visit the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said he believed Orton would be ready by Sunday, but some of his teammates weren't so sure.
Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd suggested Tebow Time is close at hand.
"It's something that's going to happen," Lloyd said. "It's unfortunate that Kyle is banged up now. But Tebow playing is inevitable, and so it's better now than maybe the last game of the season. I think it will be good for him and be good to ease the fans' minds. It will be good to ease all the players' minds of how well he can play in game-time situations."
Lloyd has been adamant in his support of Orton finishing out the season in the face of fans clamoring for Tebow to get a crack at running Denver's offense, but now he seems resigned to helping the rookie get through this.
"I think he can take on anything thrown at him," Bailey said. "He's a guy who's seen a lot, especially through his college days. I think everybody is a little anxious to see what he does in the league."
After missing all of Wednesday's workout, Orton ran gingerly and slowly tossed a couple of 5-yard throws to a staffer at the beginning of Thursday's practice, but he otherwise didn't participate in the few drills the media were allowed to watch.
Tebow took the bulk of the snaps in his absence, with third quarterback Brady Quinn also receiving some work.
Tebow has made just cameo appearances this season and thrown only one NFL pass since former coach Josh McDaniels selected him in the first round of the draft in April following his much-celebrated career at Florida, where he won two BCS national titles and a Heisman Trophy.
Tebow still has a long way to go in morphing from a college quarterback who ran the ball as much as he threw it into a prototypical pro passer.
McDaniels was fired Dec. 6 with the Broncos (3-10) in the midst of their worst slide in four decades and the videotaping scandal that embarrassed the foundering franchise.
Interim coach Eric Studesville insisted this week that Orton is still his starter but acknowledged Thursday that the quarterback situation was unsettled with the veteran's status in limbo.
Orton, who has been sacked a career-high 34 times and already thrown nearly 500 passes, was in obvious pain at the podium this week, but he insisted that while he was sore, his arm wasn't the issue despite poor performances the last two weeks.
Orton's bruised ribs, however, kept him on the sideline and allowed Tebow to get most of the first-team snaps for the first time all year.
"I think it went pretty good," Tebow said. "I think just getting more opportunities out there, more reps, that's a lot of fun for me. It's a chance to really work and improve and learn this offense even more."
Unlike previous Decembers when his body was banged up, Tebow is fresh after taking only a couple of dozen snaps and "very minimal shots, if any."
Tebow had been taking about 5 percent of the snaps at practice before this week, and most of those were in special packages such as goal-line and short-yardage situations. Now he's cramming for a much bigger repertoire.
"Some plays, you're doing for the first time. But for the most part, everything felt pretty comfortable," he said.
Tebow also feels secure about his future in Denver despite McDaniels' firing.
Tebow, who signed a five-year, $11.25 million deal last summer, has been assured by the Broncos that he's a part of their future regardless of who their next coach is.
Asked this week if he was worried about his own status following McDaniels' ouster, Tebow said: "No sir, not exactly, because with the front office just letting me know that they had me in mind in the future, that was very comforting."
Tebow said he called McDaniels the day after his firing, and they ended up consoling each other.
"He was pretty encouraging to me, and I tried to be the same to him as well," Tebow said.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press