Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kyle Orton Named Denver Broncos Starting Quarterback, But For How Long?

Head coach John Fox has named training camp standout Kyle Orton the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos for the 2011 season. However, the coach has had problems sticking with his quarterback, especially when under pressure from a vocal fanbase. His naming of Orton as the starting QB for the Broncos, begs the question, “Yes, but for how long?”

I am not here to take away from the body of work that Orton has done in preseason thus far. Throughout the preseason, Orton has shown that he has the best command of the offense, he knows the reads, he looks the most polished and for those reasons, Fox has gone ahead and ended the debate of who will start in 2011.

In the Broncos' two preseason games, Orton has successfully led several drives, most ending in field goals, and has one touchdown thus far. He continues to improve on the field.

Orton for sure has the leg up on backups Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow; he has been the starting quarterback in Denver for the past two seasons, barring a couple of missed games due to injury and because the season was already “lost.”

However, the NFL is all about winning. Unfortunately for Orton, he managed only three wins in his 13 starts last season. Some may say that Orton had a career year in yards (3,802 yards) and touchdowns (21 TDs). He also had 12 interceptions and 10 losses.

The year before he came to Denver, as the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears, Orton had similar stats to 2010. He passed for 2,972 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The Bears offense is similar to the type of offense Orton will run in 2011. It was run-heavy, and Orton was a “game manager” quarterback, a role that is best suited for him.

The Bears were 9-7 in 2008 under Orton. The year before, the Bears went to the Super Bowl and Orton watched from the bench.

Again, the NFL is all about winning.

Quarterbacks in this league are one of the most important factors in winning. Look at all the quarterbacks in the past seven years who’ve won rings: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Besides Eli, who claims to be elite, few would dispute that these quarterbacks are the best of the best. Also, few would argue that the play of these quarterbacks is the reason why their teams won the Super Bowl.

Many fans forget how wretched the Broncos were last season. The Broncos did so poorly that they “earned” the No. 2 draft pick in all the league, ahead of only the Carolina Panthers, John Fox’s old team.

Fox has the task of transforming the worst defensive team in the NFL into a dominant defensive force. But, Fox also must show that he has some acumen on offense to lead the team to more than the measly four wins it mustered in 2010.

The lowly Panthers won only two games last season as Fox and the coaching staff vacillated between quarterbacks, starting three different quarterbacks: Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen and Brian St. Pierre. St. Pierre came in as a starter having only thrown five passes in his NFL career.

Now the pride of average Broncos fan would protest, “We aren’t as bad as the Panthers!” But in the win category, we aren’t much better—especially coming out of an era with a reckless head coach who was given full control of all personnel decisions, and did everything he could to completely dismantle the Broncos franchise.

I think that the bar is set low for Fox though, at least in terms of wins. The Broncos need to be competitive enough in the AFC West and maybe come away with six or seven wins overall before the front office hits the panic button on Fox.

Last season in Carolina, Fox was set on Matt Moore as his starting quarterback—so much so that the team cut Jake Delhomme, their starter for seven seasons. But when things went south quickly, Fox heard the cries of the fanbase for the “Golden Boy,” Jimmy Clausen. Clausen started for a few weeks and then Moore was again named the starter.

With the rise of the former fan favorite, Brady Quinn, in recent weeks in Denver, it’s very interesting how things seem to recycle around amongst the league’s bottom feeders. Quinn was acquired from the Browns for Peyton Hillis (one of McDaniels’ most infamous trades), when the Browns decided to go a different direction, signing Delhomme to a two-year deal.

Quinn’s ascent to the No. 2 slot on the depth chart was not particularly surprising with Tim Tebow’s struggles in training camp and then the second preseason game, where Tebow as the third-stringer had no chance to showcase any of his talents as he handed the ball off and was asked to run and slide to run down the clock in the one-sided preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.

It is curious that a coach would run down the clock in a preseason game, basically a training exercise to see the talents your team possesses before the start of the regular season.

If the Broncos get off to a rough start similar to last season, look for Orton to receive the blame, as is the case for most starting quarterbacks in the league. In favor of Orton, Quinn would be Fox’s first choice, and if playing for more draft picks next season, Fox would turn to Tebow.

In my estimation, this will be Orton’s last stand in Denver as the starting quarterback. His contract ends this season and he will be looking for big-time money that the Broncos won’t want to pay him unless he is the reason that they put together a stellar season, which would be a shocker to the rest of the league.

I expect next offseason will be another quarterback controversy with Orton out of the picture and fans continually irritated by another below-average, playoff-missing season by the Broncos, calling to start Tebow.

Ultimately, the Broncos need to draft a quarterback or trade for a quarterback whom they believe can get the franchise behind them and really take the team to the next level.

Look at the Arizona Cardinals—they believe in Kevin Kolb. Do I think they will succeed with Kolb? No. But they do—they have given up a great deal to acquire Kolb, and they are going to get behind him to push him to succeed. Their franchise’s future in the short term depends on his development and achievements. If the project fails, like most NFL teams, they go back to the drawing board to find the next great quarterback.

Denver needs to go through this process and upper management needs to stick with it and see it through to the end, not give up on it after they fire the head coach—for example, see Tebow. Until they do that, they will be rotating through quarterbacks for the next 10-plus years or so.

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