Broncos coach says Orton still his starter, despite struggles

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's not quite Tebow Time.

Denver Broncos interim coach Eric Studesville said Monday he's sticking with slumping quarterback Kyle Orton as his starter.

Studesville left the door open just a crack to the possibility that first-round draft pick Tim Tebow could get more action with the Broncos (3-10) heading for what could be their worst season since 1964.

But he said he's already decided that Orton will remain the starter next weekend at Oakland.

So, fans in the Black Hole will have to direct their vitriol at the sideline if they want to heckle the raw rookie who has made only cameo appearances in his first NFL season.

Studesville apparently doesn't want to throw Tebow to the wolves in Oakland for the rematch of the Raiders' 59-14 rout of the Broncos on Oct. 24. But what about playing him extensively the final two weeks of the season, at home against Houston and San Diego?

Studesville was noncommittal as he spent more than half of his 20-minute news conference Monday fielding questions about his quarterbacks and alternately defending each of them.

Asked if he was considering a change there, he said: "We're going to consider to look at anything that's going to help us play better. If that's part of that equation, then, yeah, we're going to look at it."

Yet, when asked who would start against the Raiders, Studesville replied: "Kyle's going to start Sunday."

What does he have to lose by turning to Tebow at this point?

"I don't think this is where we're at this particular second," Studesville said.

He pledged to study the situation with his staff but demurred when asked if there was anything he might see this week that could change his mind about sticking with Orton, who threw three interceptions in the Broncos' 43-13 loss at Arizona on Sunday.

Over his last two games, Orton has gone from a prolific passer to a pedestrian one with no touchdown throws and paltry passer ratings that have fans calling for Tebow to take over.

With his favorite target, Brandon Lloyd, again covered by a secondary intent on stopping one of the NFL's leading receivers, Orton never found a rhythm Sunday with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy calling the plays instead of coach Josh McDaniels, who was fired six days earlier.

Orton, who signed an $8.8 million, one-year extension in training camp, is on pace to throw for a career-best 4,352 yards. Yet, he's averaged just 141 yards in his last two starts and he's already been sacked a career-high 34 times this season.

The beatings from his poor pass protection are taking their toll. His throws lack the zip they had a month ago and are increasingly off-target, sometimes by several yards as they skip in front of his receivers. Tebow warmed up Sunday when Orton hurt his ribs, but Orton never came out.

As he has all season, Tebow was politically correct Monday, saying he wants to get more playing time but if that doesn't happen, he'll be the best teammate instead.

Tebow, who figures he gets about 5 percent of the live reps in practice during the week, said he can't help but hear fans chanting his name, even on the road, "but I try not to pay any attention to it and just stay focused on the game."

He also said the environment at Oakland Coliseum shouldn't factor into anyone's thinking when considering whether to expand his role.

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"In college I always enjoyed playing on the road just as much in hostile environments, so that wouldn't be a distraction for me at all," Tebow said.

Like McDaniels, who traded three draft picks to move up and select Tebow 25th overall in the NFL draft last April, Studesville is reticent to fast-forward Tebow's on-the-job training, although he insisted the rookie could handle an increased workload if he had to.

"He's an NFL quarterback. And he's here and he was drafted to come play quarterback. So, he's going to be ready to play in a game," Studesville said.

So, what's holding Tebow back?

"Kyle was playing so well early in the year and has had a great year," Studesville said.

The last two weeks haven't been so good, and although Orton might be the least of Denver's multitude of problems, he is just 5-18 over his last 23 games as Denver's starter.

Studesville said he understands the fans' clamor for Tebow, "but we've got a responsibility to the integrity of the game and to Mr. (Pat) Bowlen and to our players as well as our fans to do everything that we can to put the best team on the field."

The Broncos placed safety Kyle McCarthy on injured reserve after he hurt his right knee covering a kickoff at Arizona on Sunday.

McCarthy, an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame, played in Denver's last eight games after his promotion from the practice squad in October.

He was replaced on the roster by wide receiver Britt Davis, a first-year pro from Northern Illinois who was promoted from the Broncos' practice quad.

McCarthy said he underwent an MRI on Monday and that doctors suspected he had a torn ACL with an expected recovery time of six months or more.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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