Beyond Tebow: Broncos' backup plan changes with Quinn

DENVER -- For less than 30 seconds on Sept. 25, Broncos QB Brady Quinn believed his moment was upon him. His teammate, Kyle Orton, just took a hard helmet-to-helmet hit from Titans DT Jason Jones, leaving Orton squirming in pain, face down at the 49-yard line.

The coaches told Quinn to get ready. He was the next man up.

But Orton never left the game. He hopped to his feet and hustled back to the huddle, leaving Quinn on the sideline at least feeling decent about his place on the Broncos' depth chart. It remains difficult to distinguish what changed, but two weeks later, Denver instead benched Orton in favor of Tim Tebow.

It doesn't matter now, of course. The Broncos are 7-1 with Tebow, who has befuddled logic with one fun comeback after another, leaving no leverage to question the decision. There does remain an intriguing layer to Denver's quarterback situation, still worthy of wonder. What happens Sunday if the coaches must again tell Quinn to get ready?

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How does he prepare to be the next man up in an offense designed specifically for another very distinct man?

"It's hard," Quinn said. "I'll be honest -- It's really hard. That's not a complaint, either. It's just a reality. If I'm going to get in the game, I have to prepare a completely different way. Without giving too much away, we have a different set of play calls that I'd be running.

"You just have to focus on the things you can focus on."

As the playoffs become a very realistic possibility for the Broncos, the idea of having a formidable backup at quarterback (particularly when the starter is susceptible to big hits) becomes more and more critical. And Quinn, with 12 career starts, is a solid insurance policy.

Yet each week, the Broncos are forced into a unique situation: They are installing an offense reliant on option plays because they have a quarterback who is making the most out of the situation. Quinn understands all of the reasons why, too.

"The thing about (Tebow) is, his style of play is tough to defend," Quinn said. "If you look at the way he plays, we don't do much for three-and-a-half quarters, but during that time, the running around and the scrambling, I think it wears a defense down.

"When it comes that time in the fourth quarter, especially in Denver, they're winded from the altitude. They're tired from chasing the guy around the field. It's extremely effective."

Effective, but unorthodox. And when viewing it from Quinn's perspective, which is among the most intimate viewpoints of this historically fascinating situation, it provides a unique glimpse into a meeting room unlike any other in the NFL.

While the Broncos continue to implement their unique offense, Quinn is in the bizarre position of trying to self-scout a defense that Tebow will never face.

"The Patriots are a good example," Quinn said of the Broncos' opponent Sunday. "They show a lot of two-deep man under, which we call Cover 5. But you'd never run that against the option. There's no one responsible for the quarterback, which would let Tebow run free. So the Patriots might be showing that on film all season, but you know they're not running that against us."

Quinn, a cerebral player with an above-average football IQ, still does his best during meetings to help out when he can, particularly if it means giving Tebow advice on pass coverages. But from his own standpoint, when it comes to preparing for the possibility of playing, that's a whole different beast.

"Some of the stuff we're doing, this is probably the only place where I'll see this film -- ever," Quinn said.

Beyond the short-term wonders about whether the Broncos could effectively switch their game plan midway through a game if Tebow became unavailable, there are also the long-term questions -- the ones nobody in the organization wants to broach just yet. If the Broncos stick with Tebow, the team's current setup at quarterback makes it pretty clear they'll need to focus on acquiring someone similar to Tebow's skill set.

Quinn, meanwhile, is about to become a free agent. And while he insists that he'd "love" to return to Denver, it's nonetheless hard to imagine a scenario in which it would be most beneficial to his long-term career goals.

At 27, the former first-round draft pick from Notre Dame still views himself as a promising starter in this league. A short stint in Cleveland was unsuccessful, and he hasn't gotten an opportunity in Denver. But the idea of eventual success isn't a huge stretch, not after seeing the rebirths of quarterbacks like Alex Smith of the 49ers and the Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"I still see myself starting in this league," Quinn said. "There's no doubt in my mind. I have all the confidence in my abilities." But does it make sense for his future to remain in Denver? Not really.

Then again, does it make sense for the Broncos to have any drop-back passers in Denver for as long as Tebow maintains his success? That's a question that John Elway and John Fox will have plenty of time to soon ponder.

Far more important for the moment, Quinn says he'll continue to do whatever he can to make sure he's prepared for anything. He'll study his own film on the side while serving as the good teammate during meetings as the team prepares to run an offense that Quinn has no business running. And he won't complain at all.

Quinn, like everyone, recognizes the most important, enjoyable aspect of the season has been the camaraderie of a team -- a group of players finding new, fun ways to win every week. And he's doing whatever he can to make sure, if he's called upon, that he'll be able to add to the magic.

"What would I do if I ended up playing at some point?" Quinn said. "Whatever I could to make sure we keep winning games."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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