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Elway, Broncos have QB quandary

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Even John Elway probably knew that John Elway was going to be a very good NFL quarterback. So much so he forced a trade from the then-Baltimore Colts to the Denver Broncos and the rest was a Hall of Fame career to remember.

Elway, though, doesn’t have the same convictions about Tim Tebow, the Broncos’ first-round quarterback of a year ago — ironically acquired in a trade for Baltimore’s draft pick — and it’s a serious issue in Denver right now because the lockout has prevented new head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy from working daily with the Heisman Trophy winner from Florida. Remember, Tebow was more of a slasher and a spread offense player than a prototypical version of an NFL quarterback.

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Now, Tebow is Fox’s kind of quarterback. He loves leadership and all the high-character intangibles that Tebow possesses. Remember, Fox had a long love affair with Jake Delhomme in Carolina because of Jake’s similar traits. Delhomme was never a pretty quarterback like Manning or Brady, but he was a winner and more than merely a serviceable quarterback. Plus, everyone on the Panthers believed in him.

Tebow has identical characteristics and beliefs. He has never shied from wanting to be the starter or believing he should start ahead of Kyle Orton, last year’s starter until a rib injury opened the door for Tebow.

And there are a lot of NFL pro scouts who will tell you Orton is just another Jake Delhomme. There is no question Orton is tough and also a very capable leader.

The quarterback thinking is so convoluted in the Denver that Elway, who now holds the title of executive vice president of football operations for the Broncos, has even remarked the previous regime — Josh McDaniels’ ill-fated attempt at trying to be as draft slick as his former boss Bill Belichick — might have made a blunder in trading away Jay Cutler. I think Elway believes Cutler possesses more of the physical qualities (big arm and size) he wants in a starting quarterback despite all the negative rips on his character.

The Broncos have the draft pick right behind the No. 1 Carolina Panthers. With the worst defense in the NFL last season and with Fox, a defensive-minded coach at the helm, everyone figures Denver will be taking the best defensive player in the draft with the second choice. It makes total sense, especially with the current restrictions on trading either Tebow or Orton away. Earlier this year, there were rumors Elway might do exactly that.

It’s pretty simple logic. If you’re running the show and you’re a Hall of Fame quarterback, shouldn’t you want to pick Denver’s next great quarterback? It makes a lot more sense when you know Elway isn’t totally sold on either one right now.

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To fuel that story line, the Broncos’ top personnel people — Elway, Fox and general manager Brian Xanders — were in attendance for the Pro Days for Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, the two quarterbacks ranked at the top of the April 28 draft. McCoy went to watch Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who has all the physical tools to be an NFL star. There are also plans for quarterbacks coach Adam Gase to visit quarterbacks Christian Ponder, Jake Locker and Colin Kaepernick.

Maybe the Broncos are thinking of using their fourth pick in the second round on a quarterback. Yes, it makes total sense for the Broncos, or any team high in the pecking order, to do their due diligence in scouting the draft’s best talent.

“We’re always looking for that guy,” Elway said recently. “We may already have the guy who can pull the trigger and win us a championship someday. We may have him. We don’t know. We believe in Tim, but he’s not there yet. We have to look at everything when you have the second pick in the draft.”

Elway is intrigued with the physical size and speed of young quarterbacks like Newton and Gabbert. But the bottom line is he doesn’t see himself in either one of those kids. It’s a difficult process for Elway because he knows the game has changed a great deal from when he played while also knowing a player needs mobility to play the position today in the NFL.

The young Elway could run with the best of them, and he was elusive in the pocket. Howie Long probably still has nightmares of trying to sack the guy.

“I look at guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and all the success that they have had,” he said. “But I think it’s getting harder and harder to play that position and not have mobility.”

The mobility issue swings the Denver debate back to Tebow, who runs like a fullback while definitely possessing the quickness to escape the pocket.

The key for Tebow is to simplify his throwing mechanics and get his mind to quit thinking run over throwing down the field. Despite all the hype, Tebow remains a raw talent. The lockout has already cost the Broncos and Elway two months of working and talking football with the kid, and it sounds totally implausible the organization would give up on him this quickly.

What makes Denver’s situation worse is this year’s quarterback class has plenty of depth, meaning teams that need a quarterback or a quarterback project can pick one next week. If the Broncos consider doing exactly that, there will be few takers for either Orton or Tebow whenever trading resumes in the NFL. And the exchange values for either one of them will be embarrassingly low.

Tagged: Broncos, Colts, Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow

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