|Ron Chenoy / US Presswire|
|Tim Tebow impressed in limited action as a rookie. Turning that into Denver's starting QB job remains to be seen.|
Broncos coach John Fox said "deep down, I have an idea" who will be his team's starting quarterback, telling the Denver Post on Thursday that he prefers a "gamer," as opposed to a good practice player.
First off, knowing Fox, he's not going to tip his hand until the last second, as he pretty much made clear to Post columnist Woody Paige. Secondly, the "gamer" tag is going to hold for all positions. Fox loves guys who show up when it matters, which is why he relied on certain players in Carolina, such as Steve Smith, Jake Delhomme and Jon Beason.
There is no doubt that veteran Kyle Orton could be considered a "gamer," and second-year pro Tim Tebow, at least based on his collegiate résumé, more than fits the description. Brady Quinn has had his chances, and I don't know if he would qualify at this point, but I do know, based on conversations I've had with someone within the organization, that Quinn will get a fair shot.
Fox and Broncos head honcho John Elway have no allegiance to Orton, Tebow or Quinn. The quarterbacks were there before they were hired. The lockout has players away from coaches, so there can't be many prejudices heading into training camp other than what they've seen on film.
They don't know how well players will respond to any of the quarterbacks, and that has just as much to do with the quarterback evaluation -- and determining who is a "gamer" -- as does hitting a receiving target on cue and making the right audible.
So there will be a competition in training camp and, regardless of what Fox said about not basing his final decision on which player looks best in practice, that will have to play a significant role.
Players have told me that they like Orton, who put up big numbers before being hurt in Denver's woeful 2010 season. I also know those same players missed Jay Cutler's ability to make the throws that Orton couldn't. Orton is the wild card in all of this because he's the most experienced. He has won. Most importantly, he has trade value.
Should a team offer Denver compensation it can't refuse, Orton could be dealt. That's more than a distinct possibility.
If that happens, that means the Broncos are committed to Tebow, who comes into this season without all the outside hysteria that followed him from Florida, where he established himself as one of the winningest and grittiest quarterbacks in recent college history.
Sure, Quinn will be in the discussion, but as I mentioned before, he's had his chances (3-9 as a starter in Cleveland) and was dealt for two late-round picks and running back Peyton Hillis (he was viewed as a throw in) in 2010 after being taken in the first round of the 2007 draft. Quinn didn't take a snap last season with Denver, as Tebow replaced Orton late in the year. Quinn would have to really blossom and Orton and Tebow would have to stumble for this not to be a two-man race.
Tebow remains mechanically flawed, which could be an issue, but Fox doesn't need a prototype Elway quarterback to make things work. Remember, Fox went to a Super Bowl with Delhomme. In fact, if Orton is traded, it wouldn't be surprising to see Denver acquire Delhomme as a backup. Delhomme is expected to be let go by Cleveland once football resumes.
What Fox needs at quarterback is a leader, someone not afraid to get in his teammates' faces and someone who can do just enough to balance a dominant running game.
Fox also has a grace period. He has time to groom his quarterback while he gets the rest of the team -- especially the woeful defense -- up to speed. So developing Tebow could be part of the overall process.
Fox showed Paige an early depth chart that listed Orton first, Tebow second and Quinn third. I'd figure that will be how things start once training camp begins. Fox might know "deep down" who his starter will be, but it would be hard for him to fully commit to anyone now.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.