A Final Look at the Denver Broncos' Quarterbacks

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A Final Look at the Denver Broncos' Quarterbacks
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Broncos’ quarterback position has constantly been referred to by pundits as the point guard of Josh McDaniels' spread offense. While this is a bit of an oversimplification, it does reflect the QB’s role as a distributor who is not asked to be a playmaker on his own.

 

Kyle Orton

Starter Kyle Orton will be expected to serve as the “game manager” (a term used ad nauseum these days) in the Broncos' new dink-and-dunk offense.

He will rarely be asked to create plays all by himself, but rather will be expected to quickly and efficiently dish the ball out to Denver’s many offensive weapons on a plethora of screens, crossing patters, short hitches and so on.

There are several quality indicators that point to Orton flourishing in the Broncos’ new offensive scheme:

-Dating back to his years at Purdue, Orton has always been considered a safety-first type of quarterback (despite any left-handed goal-line interceptions Denver fans may have seen during the preseason). This is exactly the type of field captain McDaniels is looking for.

-He flourished in a shotgun-based offense while at Purdue and is well-versed in the basic sets of the scheme. While the Broncos’ system is far more intricate and complex than the simple spread he ran with the Boilermakers, Orton’s well ahead of the game considering his college experience with multi-receiver sets and the shotgun.

-Orton has seemingly solved many of the mechanics issues (loose footwork, awkward arm motion on the deep ball) that plagued him early on in his NFL career and his numbers have improved accordingly. He posted career-highs in nearly every category last season (79.6 QB rating) despite struggling mightily with a high ankle sprain for much of the second half.

That said, it remains to be seen how a quarterback with a career 55.3 completion percentage can be the efficient game manager McDaniels needs to run his offense. Orton did complete a career-high 58.5 percent of his passes last season, but that number still ranked 25th in the league.

Many Orton supporters point to his 21-12 record as an NFL starter, but it has always seemed a bit irrational to give much weight to this number in the ultimate team sport (and that’s coming from a hardcore John Elway fan - the ultimate winning record example). While it proves Orton is capable of winning, his record as a starter in no way proves he is a legitimate starting QB in this league.

Denver fans and much of the national media have been awfully critical of Orton thus far, but the already-beleaguered QB may be on a longer leash than one might think. He has been the unquestioned starter since arriving and his position atop the depth chart becomes even stronger after a taking a look at the Broncos opening schedule.

Assuming he is healthy enough to start Week One following his finger injury, Orton will open against Cincinnati, Oakland, and Kansas City before the Broncos enter one of the toughest stretches for any team this season (Cowboys, Patriots, Chargers, Ravens, Steelers). While the schedule as a whole is daunting, a 3-0 record to start the season would only further cement Orton as the Broncos' starter and secure him at least four or five more starts behind center.

Orton was up-and-down during the preseason before missing the final game-and-a-half with a grotesque dislocated finger injury. He is expected back to start in Week One.

 

Chris Simms

The best possible scenario for this 2009 squad would be if Chris Simms does not take a single meaningful snap.

This is less a knock on Simms’ ability as it is a nod to the situation Denver would have to be in for Simms to take the field. If Simms were to find himself as the team’s starting QB, it means one of two things – either Orton has been seriously injured or he (and most likely the team as a whole) has performed so poorly that he has been pulled in favor of Simms.

The Texas alum has not seen extended action since 2006 while with the Bucs. A high ankle sprain that caused him to miss most of the preseason hasn't helped his reputation as an injury risk.

Simms has yet to prove he is a legitimate NFL quarterback and may slide into the journeyman backup mold if not given a chance to start this season.

He has solid arm strength and is capable of making most throws on the field, but tended to randomly float throws at times in Tampa. His major weakness is an absolute inability to handle pressure – both in the pocket and in big games.

Regardless of Simms’ capabilities, Orton represents the best option for the Broncos this season if for no other reason than the fact that he has participated in far more reps with the first team offense.

While neither QB is a long-term solution or even an ideal solution at this point, Orton has been pegged as the starter and abandoning him at any point during the season would signal a major failure for both the offense and McDaniels.

 

Tom Brandstater

Before anyone gets carried away following Tom Brandstater’s rather impressive performance to close out the preseason, let’s get one thing straight – he is not the quarterback of the future.

The Fresno State product was 24-of-42 for 297 yards and an interception in Denver’s final two preseason games while leading the team on a 77-yard touchdown drive against the Arizona Cardinals. It was an inspiring bounce-back from his embarrassing performance to finish out the second preseason game in Seattle, when he looked absolutely lost.

The Broncos love his size (6’5”, 220 pounds) and his numbers as a junior and senior were solid at Fresno State (33 TD, 17 INT).

As a WAC quarterback, however, he’s still a second class citizen and he’s got a long, long way to go before he’s anywhere near starting in the NFL.

 

GRADE: C

The quarterback position cannot help but be considered a weakness until Kyle Orton proves he is capable of taking the next step. He showed signs before the ankle injury in 2008 and has way more talent in Denver, but he remains a wildcard.

Regardless, the Broncos are better with him than without him, so he better be back from his preseason finger injury by Week One.

 

Check out this last look at the RB's.

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