I am not going to sugar coat it. Orton looked terrible at times last year. I am not talking about his throws, although some of those weren't always pretty. I am talking about his movement, or lack thereof, in the pocket. When the pocket broke down last year, Orton often was not fleet of foot enough to escape it. Rather than the lack of a deep passing game and less than ideal zip on his ball, Orton's lack of mobility is what really concerned me about his prospects for this season. My reasoning for this is that I thought time in the offense would translate into some improvement in the passing game, but I didn't think Orton's mobility could improve significantly with time and training. Take it from a fellow slow-footed person, some people just aren't born to be fast, and you certainly don't get faster and nimbler with age.
Golden arm? More like golden feet. I have heard it several times from both nerdy football prognosticators and ex quarterbacks that being a successful passer is as much about the lower body as it is about arm strength. In light of this, I wanted to take a few minutes of your time to discuss our newly extended much more mobile Kyle Orton. So, let's use those golden feet and jump right into this topic.
Well, I was wrong. I completely underestimated the impact that Orton's ankle issues had on his mobility and probably his ability to throw the ball. Everything I have seen from Orton so far this year suggests he is significantly more mobile. Take 20 minutes and re-watch the first two drives of the game against Cincinnati. Orton was moving much better in the pocket and even extended a few plays with his feet. Where last year he would have been sacked, in those two drives he side-stepped the rush and made some plays. I am not suggesting Orton will be beating Tim Tebow in any wind sprints any time soon, but one only needs to look at Tom Brady to see what the combination of nimble feet and good pocket awareness can do for a passing game. Brady isn't breaking any land speed records either, but his quick release, awareness, and subtle movements in the pocket make it very difficult to sack him, especially with an outside rush. This makes me very excited to see what Orton is capable of this year.
As several people have noted on this site, Orton's healthy ankles also should translate into improvement in the passing game. I can tell you as a former wannabe QB throughout my youth that shifting weight between your feet and using your lower body to create torque can really help put velocity on the ball. A hurt ankle or knee can completely throw off these mechanics. I have heard pundits say, whether right or wrong, that Elway's bum knees and Favre's lack of lower body injuries, at least up until recently, were key reasons why one walked away after 16 seasons and the other is still going strong at 20. Obviously a Superbowl win here or there goes a long way to changing the equation but this is an interesting concept and something to watch with Favre this season.
Back to the Broncos. The play calling in the game against the Redskins last year and against the Bengals this preseason suggests to me that Josh McDaniels is much more likely to have Orton throw the ball down the field when Orton's ankles are healthier. I have no proof for this, but I am going to assert that by the time the Redskins game rolled around last year, Orton's ankle injury from his days in Chicago was starting to feel better. The result, two long TD passes in the first half. The bad news? He hurt his other ankle just plays later. Orton has said several times this offseason that his ankles are both finally healthy. The result? Several longer passes early in the preseason game against the Bengals and numerous people reporting that Orton's ball has a lot more zip recently.
So what does all this mean? It means that you should be excited about our offense this year. Barring injury, Orton probably will be throwing the ball more down the field and doing a better job escaping pressure. Now that's just about as exciting as any Kevin Bacon movie ever made.