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Is Tebow the Broncos' top gun? Brief trial might have answer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tim Tebow's three-week audition as Denver's starting quarterback provided plenty of fodder for the debate over his worthiness as an NFL passer.

More importantly, it delivered much-needed experience for the spirited but raw rookie, plenty of film for the next coaching staff to study and lots of energy and optimism for the team and its fans, who suffered through the Broncos' worst season ever.

"I think it was good for everybody," chief operating officer Joe Ellis said.

Well, except maybe Kyle Orton, the prolific passer who lost his starting job last month when he suffered bruised ribs and gave two successive poor performances, leaving his future up in the Mile High air.

What Tebow lacked in polish he made up for in energy and emotion, rallying the Broncos (4-12) to one fourth-quarter comeback and coming within one tipped pass of another.

His teammates, some of whom were skeptical at first, loved the passion he brought to the huddle.

Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd, who initially supported Orton finishing out the season as the starter, said Tebow and the Broncos benefited from his promotion.

"It's always good to get him in there and get experience, so that in the offseason he can visualize the speed of the game," Lloyd said. "He can visualize what teams are doing to him and to us, and how fast we run our routes, so he can visualize the correct timing in the offseason.

"It's always tough when you have a rookie quarterback who doesn't play in his first season -- he's still a rookie in his second year. A guy who didn't get any snaps is still a rookie and is still starting fresh."

Tebow finished his first season in the NFL with five TD tosses and six TD runs. He completed 41 of 82 passes for 654 yards with three interceptions and ran 43 times for 227 yards.

"It was invaluable experience for him," Ellis said. "He went through three different types of games, had some ups, had some struggles. It's just great experience for him. I think it's exciting for the fans and for the organization to see what's the potential there. He's going to be successful in this league. He will be. He'll will himself to be successful."

Every rookie goes through growing pains, but the microscope was especially tuned on Tebow, the former University of Florida star with two national titles and a Heisman Trophy stunningly selected in the first round of the draft last April by former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels.

Tebow was the most intriguing pro prospect since Michael Vick, but he couldn't beat out Orton last summer, and his transformation from a combination college QB who ran as much as he threw into a prototypical pro passer remains a work in progress.

Before McDaniels' firing, Tebow's snaps were limited to specialty packages, such as goal-line and short-yardage situations -- and just one pass.

Now he has 12 full quarters of action from which to draw upon when he resumes his NFL education under a new regime that will be led by Hall of Famer John Elway, the two-time Super Bowl champion who rejoins the team this week as its chief football executive.

"It was good for him to get that playing time," wide receiver Eddie Royal said, "to go out there and know what it feels like to compete at this level, to see the speed of the game, the speed of the line, the speed of the secondary, because in practice you just don't get that."

Tebow's throws might be wobbly or off-target at times, he might have trouble taking the snap under center after working from the shotgun with the Gators, and his footwork and throwing mechanics might need lots of work, but his enthusiasm and effervescence were infectious.

"He never stopped playing hard, he never stopped being positive, and that's going to be really helpful to him," Ellis said. "And all the other stuff, the mechanics and the throwing and the timing and the seeing the field, that's just going to come with experience."

Tebow declined to say whether he considers himself the incumbent starter now that he finished out the season atop the depth chart, but he agreed the last three weeks were priceless.

"I think it gives me confidence, it gives me different things to visualize and work on in the offseason," he said.

Eric Studesville, who coached the team the final month, said Tebow's work ethic is unmatched, so any flaws in his game will eventually get ironed out.

"He'll continue to improve each and every day and the more he plays," Studesville said.

One player who wasn't sold on Tebow was Orton, who threw for 3,653 yards with 20 TDs and nine interceptions after signing a one-year extension in training camp that could be worth $8.8 million next season. Orton said this was his best season and that he's just now hitting his prime.

Although he couldn't throw passes for a while after injuring his ribs Dec. 12 at Arizona, Orton said he doesn't believe he should have been benched for the final three games and said that if he returns to Denver next season, it should be as the starter.

"They're going to make a decision based as an organization on what they want to do," Orton said. "But certainly with my play, I don't feel like I opened the door for anybody."

The next coaching staff will determine if Tebow has displayed enough for the Broncos to show Orton the door.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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