Alright... I have officially become a Kyle Orton apologist.
What's an apologist one my ask?
An apologist is one who seeks to make rational arguments in defense of a person, subject, or point of view. That makes my job to help you see rational reasons for why Kyle Orton should be given some respect as the QB of the Denver Broncos.
From the moment the Bronco's traded Cutler to the Bears for a slew of picks, with a side of KO, there have been a variety of people who have disparaged Orton as being a sub-par QB who will never amount to anything in the NFL. Many say he doesn't have a strong arm. Still others complain that he is too conservative. Even others criticize his mobility.
So the question is... are those things true, and is there rational reasons to hold to such a point of view? And if so, are there rational reasons to believe that these things will change in 2010?
This article is going to address one specific claim about Kyle Orton: He is too conservative and is afraid to "make plays". He is not a play making QB... but a Game Manager.
Let's start by considering Kyle Orton's history as an NFL QB. Kyle was drafted by the Chicago Bears and was immediately thrust into the starting roll as a rookie. For 4 years, Kyle's job was basically to manage the game... protect the ball and control the clock... and to not make mistakes. Chicago invested very little in offensive weapons to assist in this... they were a strong defensive team, and they made dominating defense the focal point of thier game plan and strategy.
Then the trade happened. Kyle Orton was suddenly thrown to a new team, with a new head coach, and a fan-base that was divided and furious because of the loss of their "franchise QB". In all reality, it was about the worst senario you could possibly imagine coming into.
With this new fan-base, came completely new expectations . Where Chicago was a defense-oriented team... Denver had been an Offense-Oriented team. Where Chicago expected thier QB to "manage the game"... Denver expected thier QB's to be "John Elway" the second's. Where Chicago ran a more conservative offensive gameplan... Denver was a wide open, West Coast style offense... which the year before had been 2nd in the entire NFL in total yards. Into this dichotomy, KO was thrust.
Instantly the label "Game Manager" was thrust upon Mr. Orton... and for good reason. In Chicago, that was exactly what they wanted him to be, and so that was what he was. He was exactly what the coaching staff wanted him to be... a guy who would play safe and not make mistakes that would cost the team games. In Chicago, Orton was a "Game Manager".
However in Denver, the fan's didn't want "game managers"... they wanted "play makers". The fan's had fallen in love with an arrogant, self-confident QB who's arm brought back visions of #7. Cutler could scramble... he could throw across his body... he was a "play maker"... exactly like the fan's wanted.
So when Cutler was swapped for Orton, it sent the Fan-base into seizures. Because Orton was so different that Cutler, the vast majority of fan's refused to believe that Orton could ever lead the Broncos to any kind of success. Without even playing a single game, many had written off Orton and the entire 2009 season as a total loss. Without a "play making" QB, they just couldn't imagine a return to glory we had back when Elway was our leader.
Thus Kyle has never been given any respect as a potential QB in Denver.
So again we ask... "Is Kyle Orton too conservative.... A game manager... too afraid to make plays?"
A simple answer is that, it is really too early to know.
In college, Kyle was a play making QB. Kyle set many passing record for his beloved Purdue Boilermakers. It was an offense that was centered around a play making QB... and at the time... he fit the mold. His coaches asked him to throw... and Kyle delivered.
In Chicago, Kyle was asked to play a completely different game. As stated above, he molded his game to fit the game-plan... and was very successful in doing so.
In Denver, McDaniels is asking Kyle to blend the two styles together. Kyle is expected to make plays, but to also play smart and manage the game. This explains his career numbers in 2009 for Kyle in yards... attempts... completion percentage ... TD's... INT's... but a decrease from the overall passing yards for the Broncos in 2008 where Shannahan ran a pass-first, risk and reward style of offense.
As you can see... depending upon the game-plan... Kyle Orton has adjusted his game to fit the needs of the team. However, during his time as a professional QB, he has never been asked to be a straight "Play Making" QB. Thus the misconception that he is just a "game manager".
Add to this, it was Kyle's first year in this very complex offense. A QB's first year in any offense often looks very conservative and "game manager-ish" because it takes time to become proficent with all of the adjustments, play calls, terminology, and timings that are required to run the offense effectively. Why is this so important?
If I asked you to tie your shoes, the majority of you could tie both shoes in just a few seconds. However, my son... who is just learning to tie his shoes has to go very slowly. He has to say each step as he does it, so that he makes sure not to forget any steps. If he walks through all of the steps in the right way, he can tie his shoes... but he has to think about it and it takes him several minutes.
There are 4 steps in Mastering anything. AWARENESS - LEARNING - PROFICIENCY - MASTERY
At the Awareness Stage you are aware that you don't know what you need to know in order to perform. Kyle Orton was at this stage on his first day as a Denver Bronco.
At the Learning Stage, you begin to learn the things that you need to know in order to perform. You can't neccesarily do them... or at least you can't do them very well, but you are learning how to do them.
Once you understand what you need to do... then you enter into the Proficiency Stage. This is where, through practice, you begin to become more and more proficient at performing that which you are trying to perform. You have to think about it... but your performace becomes increasingly better.
Most people stop at proficient... and never push through to the Master stage. Case in point... I can play guitar, but I am certainly no Jimmy Hendrix. Jimmy learned how to play guitar just like me.... only he practice and practiced to become a master... while I stopped once I learned "stairway to heaven"...
At the Master Stage, you no longer even think about performing... you simply do. You don't have to think of all of the steps, or all of the progressions... you simply know what to do, and you do it. You can see why this stage is such an important stage to get to for an NFL QB.
To expect Kyle Orton to be at the Master Stage with this offense is pretty obserd. He has steadily progressed through the stages to a level of proficency that is, quite honestly, pretty good for a QB in his first year in a complex system.
However, what is very clear still, is that his mind is still engaged in the process... meaning that he still has to mentally process everything in order to perform. This improves with practice and experience, however, it often makes a QB look slow, tenative, conservative, and even too safe... because he is still struggling with having to think about his response to every detail.
Once Kyle Orton becomes a Master of the System... then you will get a chance to see exactly what he can do... and his capabilities as a "play maker". That's why this year will be so important for Kyle. He will be on the top side of Proficiency, and will be expected to perform at a higher level than previously. So far, Kyle has improved every year... and has yet to plateau. We have yet to see the potential that Kyle Orton has as a QB in this system.
So with that, I believe that Kyle Orton will have an excellent 2010 season as the QB for the Denver Broncos. Why? Because he will be more proficient in the system... he is willing to adapt his style to fit the game plan that Coach McDaniels lays out week after week... and he's improved every year up to this point... why should we expect him to regress now?
Update: Improv88 posted a very good rebuttal that is very much worth reading. You can read it here.