|Ed Andrieski / Associated Press|
|Kyle Orton talks with new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels during training camp.|
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Gone from Dove Valley are the famous fastballs that left Broncos receivers with bruised hands and disjointed fingers. Absent, too, is the petulant personality that magnified the stress levels both in the huddle and the locker room.
In the NFL's biggest trade this offseason, the Denver Broncos shipped the cannon-armed Cutler, their Pro Bowl passer and infamous pouter, to the Chicago Bears for even-tempered Orton, who's 21-12 as a starter in four NFL seasons, and three draft picks.
Orton gives the Broncos the efficient, brainy signal-caller that new coach Josh McDaniels favors to run his complicated offense, one that requires pinpoint passing and precision reads more than a rocket arm.
Orton spent his first three months in Denver cramming his new playbook and battling Chris Simms for the starting job. McDaniels, who helped Tom Brady and Matt Cassel thrive in New England, named him the starter last month.
Even though Orton enters training camp as the starting quarterback for the first time since his days at Purdue, he's not taking his role for granted, a seemingly wise choice after what McDaniels said this week:
"We're going to evaluate the quarterbacks just like we do every other position. If Chris is the most effective quarterback in our system by September, then he'll start," McDaniels said.
Orton said very little is different for him coming into camp as the No. 1 guy, save for being a bit more vocal than usual.
"Obviously, leadership-wise, it sets up at the forefront a little bit more and just making sure as a unit we're running smoothly," he said. "But I just go about my business and try to improve every day. Really, that's the goal."
Simms insisted he's not bothered by getting fewer snaps than Orton.
"It's not going to affect the way I do anything because it's a long camp, a long preseason and Coach McDaniels has made it apparent that every job's open and I believe him," Simms said.
Simms has started 16 games in six seasons, but he's thrown just two passes since undergoing emergency surgery to remove his spleen after a game in 2006. He signed a two-year, $6 million deal originally to be the No. 2 behind Cutler, but now finds himself backing up Orton, who will make about $1 million this season in the final year of his contract.
Orton and Simms are now in the bulls-eye of a quarterback-crazed city where nobody has been able to emulate even a sliver of the success John Elway enjoyed during his Hall of Fame career that ended a decade ago.
Brian Griese, Gus Frerotte, Jake Plummer and Cutler combined for one playoff win (Plummer's) since Elway capped his stellar career with back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
Cutler seemed to have the best shot, although his leadership traits weren't as honed as his football skills. At times, he lost focus on the field when one of his teammates made a mistake, and he could really hold a grudge like the one he had with kicker Matt Prater for missing a short field goal during a game late last season.
Still, the Broncos touted the enormously talented Cutler as the post-Elway cornerstone of their quest to return to championship contention, and he was coming off his first 4,000-yard season and first Pro Bowl appearance when things went sour in Denver.
Cutler and his agent, Bus Cook, believed the Broncos shopped Cutler when free agency began. McDaniels said the team simply listened to a trade proposal that would have sent Cassel to Denver and Cutler to Tampa Bay in a three-way deal with the Patriots.
Either way, it was the beginning of the end, and Cutler left town a month later without having come close to escaping Elway's long shadow.
Now it's Orton's turn. And maybe Simms will get his shot, too.
"There are so many shadows in Denver. There's Elway's shadow. There's Cutler's shadow," Simms said, chuckling. "So, we shouldn't get a sunburn in camp, should we?"
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press