Harrison’s hit on Orton sends scare into Broncos

Tim Tebow’s ill-fated dart into the end zone earlier this month

sparked quite the conversation among his devotees and his haters

alike: Can the former Florida star survive in the NFL if he doesn’t

tone down his bruising running style?

Kyle Orton, for one, was squarely in his corner. The Denver

Broncos’ starting quarterback said he’d have done the exact same

thing as Tebow did when he dashed for the goal line on the final

play of his pro debut even though two defenders rendered the rookie

a human sandwich with bruised ribs.

”Try to score every play that you can,” Orton said. ”And if

that’s the option, then that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Even though it’s the preseason, where stats don’t count but the

aches hurt just the same.

So, it was no surprise Sunday night when Orton found himself as

the last line of defense as Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison

was rumbling downfield after picking up a fumble that would be

overturned.

Harrison saw Orton go low for the tackle along the sideline and

he put his helmet down and hit Orton head on, leaving the

quarterback shaken, the Broncos miffed and their fans wondering if

this summer-long injury epidemic had claimed yet another key

starter.

”I don’t know if I went after him or he went after me,” Orton

said. ”You have to try to save a touchdown and took a pretty

decent shot, yeah.”

Orton said that while he only had the wind knocked out him, it

was obvious that Harrison went down to meet him head on, and

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels stopped just short of calling

Harrison’s hit a cheap shot.

”It kind of looked like Harrison knew he was going to go low

and then he took the liberty to go ahead and go after the

quarterback,” McDaniels said.

That’s just football, Harrison countered.

”I play aggressively,” he said. ”I was going to the ground

and wanted to get as many yards as I could.”

As it turns out, it was all for naught as the officials quickly

huddled and ruled it an incomplete pass.

Brady Quinn came in for one snap, was sacked on a blitz and the

Broncos punted. When Denver got the ball back, Orton was under

center again, much to the relief of the Broncos and their fluttered

fan base.

As ballyhooed as their arrivals were this spring, neither Tebow

nor Quinn look anywhere near ready to take over Denver’s offense if

Orton gets hurt.

Judging by the rotation and their performances Thursday night,

it appears that Tebow has moved up in the pecking order ahead of

Quinn.

Tebow was erratic: he telegraphed an interception but came back

to drive Denver 74 yards on five plays for a 3-yard touchdown

strike to fellow rookie Eric Decker,

”Just up and down out there,” Tebow said. ”Some good things,

some bad things – and a lot of things I’ve got to go work on and

get a lot better at.”

One thing he did much better this time was stay in the pocket.

He didn’t scramble at all in completing half of his 10 passes for

72 yards.

For the first time since Denver made him a surprise first-round

pick in the draft, Tebow looked like a bona fide NFL pocket passer

Thursday night.

”Trying to be,” Tebow said. ”Just trying to do what I’m

asked.”

”We’re not calling plays for him to run the ball. That’s just

the bottom line,” McDaniels said. ”When he went in there, we

wanted him to throw the ball from the pocket, we wanted to do some

things and test him, see how he did, see how he handled it and none

of the things that we were doing were designed scrambles or

designed runs.

”And I told him, too, if he scrambles again, get down, you

know? That would be better for all of us.”

While Tebow looked a lot better, Quinn appeared stuck in

neutral, although he was playing with the second- and

third-stringers when he went just 1-for-2 for 2 yards in mop-up

duty against the Steelers.

”I may not always look statistically good,” said Quinn, who

insisted he was nevertheless making progress in McDaniels’

intricate offense.

Still, he might have already been supplanted by Tebow as Orton’s

primary backup. ”It’s honestly something I’m not focusing on,”

said Quinn, who’s instead looking to make an impression with much

more playing time in the preseason finale at Minnesota on Thursday

night.