DENVER Tim Tebows ill-fated dart into the end zone earlier this month sparked quite the conversation among his devotees and his haters alike: Can the former Florida star survive in the NFL if he doesnt tone down his bruising running style?
Kyle Orton, for one, was squarely in his corner. The Denver Broncos starting quarterback said hed have done the exact same thing as Tebow did when he dashed for the goal line on the final play of his pro debut even though two defenders rendered the rookie a human sandwich with bruised ribs.
Try to score every play that you can, Orton said. And if thats the option, then thats what youve got to do.
Even though its the preseason, where stats dont count but the aches hurt just the same.
So it was no surprise Sunday night when Orton found himself as the last line of defense as Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison was rumbling downfield after picking up a fumble that would be overturned.
Harrison saw Orton go low for the tackle along the sideline, and he put his helmet down and hit Orton head on, leaving the quarterback shaken, the Broncos miffed and their fans wondering if this summer-long injury epidemic had claimed yet another key starter.
I dont know if I went after him or he went after me, Orton said. You have to try to save a touchdown and took a pretty decent shot, yeah.
Orton said that while he only had the wind knocked out of him, it was obvious that Harrison went down to meet him head on, and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels stopped just short of calling Harrisons hit a cheap shot.
It kind of looked like Harrison knew he was going to go low, and then he took the liberty to go ahead and go after the quarterback, McDaniels said.
Thats just football, Harrison countered.
I play aggressively, he said. I was going to the ground and wanted to get as many yards as I could.
As it turns out, it was all for naught as the officials quickly huddled and ruled it an incomplete pass.
Brady Quinn came in for one snap, was sacked on a blitz and the Broncos punted. When Denver got the ball back, Orton was under center again, much to the relief of the Broncos and their fluttered fan base.
As ballyhooed as their arrivals were this spring, neither Tebow nor Quinn look anywhere near ready to take over Denvers offense if Orton gets hurt.
Judging by the rotation and their performances Thursday night, it appears that Tebow has moved up in the pecking order ahead of Quinn.
Tebow was erratic: he telegraphed an interception but came back to drive Denver 74 yards on five plays for a 3-yard touchdown strike to fellow rookie Eric Decker,
Just up and down out there, Tebow said. Some good things, some bad things and a lot of things Ive got to go work on and get a lot better at.
One thing he did much better this time was stay in the pocket. He didnt scramble at all in completing half of his 10 passes for 72 yards.
For the first time since Denver made him a surprise first-round pick in the draft, Tebow looked like a bona fide NFL pocket passer Thursday night.
Trying to be, Tebow said. Just trying to do what Im asked.
Were not calling plays for him to run the ball. Thats just the bottom line, McDaniels said. When he went in there, we wanted him to throw the ball from the pocket, we wanted to do some things and test him, see how he did, see how he handled it and none of the things that we were doing were designed scrambles or designed runs.
And I told him, too, if he scrambles again, get down, you know? That would be better for all of us.
While Tebow looked a lot better, Quinn appeared stuck in neutral, although he was playing with the second- and third-stringers when he went just 1-for-2 for 2 yards in mop-up duty against the Steelers.
I may not always look statistically good, said Quinn, who insisted he was nevertheless making progress in McDaniels intricate offense.
Still, he might have already been supplanted by Tebow as Ortons primary backup.
Its honestly something Im not focusing on, said Quinn, whos instead looking to make an impression with much more playing time in the preseason finale at Minnesota on Thursday night.