Kyle Orton quietly shines amid Tebowmania
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - When the Denver Broncos' practice at Invesco Field was over, thousands of fans who had been incessantly chanting Tim Tebow's name pushed toward the railings to beg for his autograph.
They clicked photos of the hideous haircut that linebacker Wesley Woodyard had buzzed into his head that afternoon in a rookie ritual, the friar-like images, like everything Tebow, going viral on the Internet.
Female fans fawned over Brady Quinn, the ruggedly handsome quarterback who arrived in Denver just ahead of Tebow's selection in the first round of the NFL draft this spring.
Kyle Orton? He slipped out a side exit almost unnoticed.
Nothing new there - at the team's headquarters in suburban Denver, the boisterous cheers from Tebowmaniacs begin the second the former Florida star steps out onto the football field to start stretching. They don't end until he's done meeting and greeting his fixated fans, which, during two-a-days, can be just before darkness descends upon Dove Valley.
Usually drawing quite the crowd himself is Quinn, the former first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns.
Orton, meanwhile, doesn't rate a single display jersey at the satellite trailer the Broncos team store is operating inside the parking lot at the club headquarters, where dozens of Tebow jerseys - already the top seller in the NFL - are going fast.
Many days, Orton can slip past the media horde hanging on Tebow's every word and head right into the locker room without breaking stride, nobody bothering the starting quarterback for his thoughts.
This for an incumbent who is so far ahead of the others in both understanding and execution of Josh McDaniels' intricate offense that the real intrigue has been relegated to this: Who will serve as Orton's backup in 2010?
Even if the more-experienced Quinn gets that nod, Tebow figures to see plenty of action in special packages such as the Wildcat formation or in the red zone, cameo appearances that will have to satisfy the Tebowmaniacs while Orton quietly leads the Broncos offense.
Almost nowhere else in the NFL is the starting quarterback so stealthy, solitary or secluded as Orton is in Denver, where he signed a one-year, $2.621 million tender as a restricted free agent this offseason because the Broncos weren't willing to give him a long-term deal despite his 29-19 record as a starter in Chicago and Denver.
So, where's the love for Kyle Orton?
"I don't need love," Orton insisted. "I just need wins."
Orton doesn't seem the least bit fazed by the hoopla surrounding Tebow or the lack of devotion he's getting from the fans or the front office.
"I come out here every day and try to get the team and the offense to where we can win games. That's really my main focus," Orton told The Associated Press.
For those actually paying attention, Orton has been worth noticing during training camp. His comfort level and accuracy of his throws are way ahead of Tebow and Quinn. His teammates look at him as their unquestioned leader, with co-captain Champ Bailey declaring, "He's my guy."
Ever since bringing in Quinn and Tebow, McDaniels has insisted Orton is still the starter - but that he'd have to fend off his rivals in training camp.
While Tebow blows away the competition in post-practice wind sprints, Orton's doing the same at quarterback, even if Broncos fans aren't paying close attention.
"He's not under the radar on our team, I know that," McDaniels said. "He's started off extremely well. He's accurate. There's nothing in our scheme that he can't execute. He gets us in the right play 99 out of 100 or 100 out of 100 times and the ball's going to the right place."
It's not just a mental leap but a physical one.
Orton is more mobile in the pocket and is stepping into throws with the good mechanics and proper footwork that eluded him almost all last season.
"Physically, I'm healthy finally," Orton said. "When I came over from Chicago I was still battling my right ankle and never really got that right. Then we got into the season and I did my left ankle and I was playing on two flat tires, basically. That's no fun. I'm just happy I'm feeling good for the first time. When you're a quarterback and you're not playing with your feet it's a tough situation. You're using a lot of arm and poor mechanics and all that stuff."
This summer, his passes are precise, as are his reads.
"Everybody plays through injuries and a quarterback is no different," Orton said. "Hopefully, I can get through this season on two good wheels and move around and throw the ball well."
Despite his ankle injuries, Orton had the best statistical season of his career last year. But the Broncos collapsed after a 6-0 start and instead of the long-term deal he coveted, Orton got Quinn and Tebow.
Embracing the opportunity to once again prove his worth, Orton has only solidified his grip on the job.
"Being healthy and technically sound, that's a really good combination for a quarterback to have," McDaniels said. "And he knows where to go, too. So, there's a lot of good things. I think that's why he's got so much confidence right now. I think our players have a lot of confidence also, and I think it's helping our entire offense."