QB Tebow now the leader of problematic Broncos
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP)
He brings energy, enthusiasm and excitement to a franchise sorely in need of all three, but he can't stop the run or defend the pass. Nor can he do anything about all the battered bodies that have relegated run-stuffers and playmakers to the trainers' rooms and operating tables.
Kyle Orton lost his starting job following the team's 1-4 start, but the Broncos have been bedeviled by more than just quarterback play in coach John Fox's first season in Denver.
Although their special teams are solid, the Broncos are ranked 25th on both offense and defense, and they're only now starting to get healthy.
As Fox said this week: ''It's not one guy. It's not all Kyle Orton's fault.''
And if Orton can get demoted, tight end Daniel Fells says anyone on the team is ''fair game.''
Everyone sure is.
''We'll look into whatever we can to try to win football games,'' Fox said.
While nobody else lost their starting job this week, there have been are some shifts. Rookie pass-rusher Von Miller was replaced by Mario Haggan in the base defense Sunday and is going to have to round out his game to get more snaps.
On offense, the Broncos have been without Demaryius Thomas (Achilles, finger) all season, Eddie Royal (groin) and Julius Thomas (ankle) for three weeks. They've hardly had defensive stars Elvis Dumervil (shoulder) and Champ Bailey (hamstring) on the field together this season.
They've allowed three 300-yard passing games and two 200-yard rushing games.
Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson joined Ty Warren on injured reserve this week after playing an entire game on a blown-out ankle, further depleting a position that's been thinned by injuries since training camp.
The Broncos scattered for a league-mandated four-day furlough following an 80-minute workout Wednesday that capped this week's three hours of practice time. Absent for all of it was Tebow's new blindside protector, rookie right tackle Orlando Franklin, who was excused for family reasons.
When they return Monday, the Broncos coaches will accommodate their new scrambling quarterback with different formations, protections and calls, but they're not going to overhaul the playbook.
''We're not going to change everything just because he's playing,'' offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said.
Because players aren't allowed to meet with coaches during their break, Tebow said he'll be staring at his iPad a lot this weekend, not to play ''Words With Friends,'' but to review game film he downloaded onto his tablet.
He'll also round up some receivers to run routes and work on their timing.
Fox used to give players an extra day off following a bye week, but he won't now because the new NFL rules state that players have to have four consecutive days off and can't meet with their coaches during that time.
''We're going to practice on Monday to get our timing and rhythm back, particularly in the passing game.'' Fox said. ''And that's the area that I think, with an extended time off, can suffer some sometimes.''
With a scrambling quarterback replacing a mostly immobile one, the wide receivers will have to run around more and the offensive linemen will have to make sure they block longer and keep after it when defenders disengage.
''We better get some extra conditioning in,'' wide receiver Eric Decker said.
In part because of key injuries, the Broncos have struggled to find an identity under Dennis Allen, their sixth defensive coordinator in six seasons.
''On each individual play, you can look at a guy here or a guy there'' who missed an assignment or tackle. ''I don't think it's been any one individual that's really stood out,'' Allen said. ''We've got to be more consistent across the board, coaching, playing, everything.''
When Brian Dawkins went out with a neck injury Sunday against San Diego, the Broncos had two rookie safeties as their last line of defense in Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter, who had their growing pains.
While the speed of the game and tackling more talented players are big adjustments from the college ranks, Allen said the biggest difference for safeties is mental.
''It's just understanding situations in the game, understanding how teams are going to try to attack you, what teams are going to try to do to get you out of position,'' he said. ''Unfortunately, those are things that you have to learn as you go.''
Against the likes of Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers.
While defensive tackle Marcus Thomas returned from shoulder and groin injuries that had sidelined him all season and posted eight tackles against the Chargers, Vickerson severely sprained his right ankle on the first play but stayed in the game.
''I was proud of the way that he gutted it out,'' Allen said. ''Obviously, he had a significant injury and the fact that he was able to battle through and continue to be on the field shows a lot about his character.''
Royal practiced Wednesday for the first time since straining his right groin Sept. 18 against Cincinnati, and caught a few passes from his new quarterback.
''We've got a lot of playmakers on our team and we just added one at quarterback. He can throw it, he can run it. It's going to be a challenge for defenses to stop him,'' Royal said.
Tebow lacks polish and the elite mixture of skills usually seen in an NFL quarterback, but he brings unbridled zeal and a heralded work ethic to the job. As his legion of fans are fond of saying, he's a ''gamer.''
''One thing you can't take away from him is that heart, that emotion,'' Decker said. ''That's something he carries on his sleeve and brings every day to work. He's a guy that won't be outworked and that rubs off on people. It might not be the most conventional way but he finds a way to get it done.''
Connect with AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton