DENVER — Reports of Kyle Orton’s departure have gotten nearly as much mileage as the Toyota Prius the Broncos quarterback drives.
Looks like it’s time to hit the brakes.
Orton continues to practice exclusively with the first team at Denver’s training camp, while backup Tim Tebow, the anticipated challenger for the starting job, has yet to run a single play behind the No. 1 offensive line. Team periods often consist of the offense broken up into two groups.
The regulars go to one field, the reserves another. Orton and third-string QB Brady Quinn lead the former group; Tebow the latter.
That doesn’t even take into account that Orton has thrown the ball confidently and accurately, and has looked the part of a starting NFL signal-caller much more than either Tebow or Quinn.
So, while Orton hasn’t been told he tops the depth chart, nothing really needs to be said, except possibly an apology for those Miami Dolphins trade talks.
“It’s out there. It’s not in the building,” Orton said Thursday of the rumor mill surrounding his status. “It’s business as usual. Guys know how to handle this stuff, and that’s just the way it is.”
The Denver’s three-tiered power structure in the front office - GM Brian Xanders, executive VP of football operations John Elway and new head coach John Fox - have stated since January that Orton would top the depth chart until proven otherwise.
What’s caused the stir is Tebow’s off-the-charts popularity with fans, who clearly embrace him as the No. 1 QB regardless of Orton’s high level of play. The other factor were the Dolphins trade discussions.
On Day 1 of camp, Orton drove away and there was uncertainty whether he’d return for the team’s first official meeting a few hours later. But the discussions with the Dolphins never progressed, either because Denver’s was seeking too much or the Dolphins were concerned about having to revamp Orton’s contract — in the $9 million range for 2011 — into a longer term deal with monetary guarantees.
The fallout from those talks continues at Miami’s training camp, where Dolphins fans have chanted Orton’s name to demonstrate their unhappiness with Chad Henne.
“My story’s been the same regardless of what you hear,” Fox said earlier this week. “And I’m in those meetings every day and know what’s said to everybody. Nothing’s changed. We’ve been singing the same song as seven months ago.”
That is, the competition will be ongoing and no starter named until a clear winner emerges through preseason games.
All Orton has done is put the uncertainty aside and thrown the ball with confidence and accuracy, while continuing to win over veteran teammates who might not take lightly to a switch to Tebow if the level of the two quarterbacks’ play continues down the same path.
“I haven’t been told anything,” Orton said. “That’s how I go about it. And I just let my play speak for itself on the football field. I feel like I’m playing good football right now. I’ve made some strides in the offseason and I’m excited to get on the field to lead this team to more wins this season.”
Tebow subbed for an injured Orton for the final three games last season, providing a sample of his competitive swagger and unmatched popularity. But lost in translation was that Orton, despite his team’s struggle to win games, had been throwing the ball at a career clip. He finished with a 58.8 percent completion percentage in 13 games, throwing for 20 TDs and 3,653 yards to go with nine interceptions before sitting out December.
“Some of the changes that are being made are going to help us in the run game and protection wise,” Orton said. “And, like I said, I think we can throw the ball against anybody. We’ve got guys that can get open and get the ball to them. I think if we can improve in those areas, we’re going to be a tough offense to stop.”
More difficult to curtail are the calls for Tebow, who draws the most buzz at Dove Valley. He’s taking the second-team snaps ahead of Quinn, but hasn’t matched Orton’s accuracy or pocket presence.
Tebow and Orton aren’t close and don’t spend much time chit-chatting. For Orton, it’s strictly business.
“When you step between the lines, that’s your job to lead the football team and work hard and practice like you want everybody else to,” he said. “That’s the way I’ve gone about it.”