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A Look Back: Broncos Preseason Debut Filled With Positives...And Some Concerns

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So we've had the night to process last night's preseason loss to the Bengals. I must say, kudos to all of you. I read the comments in the post-game thread, and most of you seem to get it now. What is 'it'? Not kool-aid, not always looking at things through orange and blue glasses. No, you guys and gals get football and you get preseason football. When someone new comes in, you respectfully explain what MHR is about and what the expectations are. Thanks to each and every one of you.

Before we get to the game, let's look at a couple things I wrote while I was in Denver for Training Camp:

It is really hard to evaluate the quarterbacks for a number of reasons. Most importantly, they can't get hit, so often times a great play is made in a situation that would have ended up in a sack in a real game. That said, just looking at the way the three quarterbacks performed, both in 7-on-7 drills and individual work on the side, Kyle Orton is head and shoulders above the rest. He should be, since this is his second year in the system. As for Brady Quinn, he is a complete rebuilding process. Quinn was such a mess when he left Cleveland that it is going to take awhile for him to regain the confidence he has in himself.

That was on August 2nd, after 1 full-team workout. Orton's superiority was obvious then, and that was after an off-season of saying there wasn't going to be a quarterback controversy in Denver - between Orton and Brady Quinn or Orton and Tim Tebow. If he can stay healthy, and that is the BIG IF, Orton will be the man.

I also said this about Tebow on August 2nd:

Here is what makes watching and evaluating Tebow so tough. He got into the action, he threw some passes and ran some QB sneaks. He seems pretty obvious that Tebow will likely be a part of the 45-man roster every Sunday.

Where he is at right now, as a quarterback, is anyone's guess, and that is all it is, a guess. You'll see people on both sides, but there is no way to fairly to evaluate Tim.

We know Tim can run. We know he can improvise. He can do it very, very well. He has instincts you can't teach. That delivery, however, wow. Everything about it is wrong, except one thing. The ball gets form Point A to Point B. Fast. It has lead me to make a determination.

I am not going to give my opinion on Tebow again until I see him against a live defense that is trying to take his head off. These practices are too controlled, the hitting too limited. I need to see him against a real defense, playing the game. Honestly, that is what I think Tebow's strength is. Some guys are good passers, some guys good runners, other guys smarter than the rest. Tim Tebow is a really good football player. I want to see him play football. Only then, when there are tangible results, can I make a FAIR analysis.

Otherwise it is simply guessing.

Last night was our first chance to evaluate Tim Tebow as more than a practice quarterback. We were able to look at him as a football player. That might be his best attribute. I'll get to that later. Let's start from the beginning.

Kyle Orton came out and played with the sense of urgency I was looking for. Not because his job is in jeopardy(which it is not), or because he is in a contract year(which he is). It was nice to see because Kyle Orton knows, and accepts, that he will have to carry the Broncos, especially early in the season. Be it injuries to the running backs, or youth on the offensive line, Orton is the unquestioned leader of the offense - and to me, the question was would he embrace that. Last night he showed he has embraced it. It is Orton's team, Orton's locker room.

I'll go one step further - and I said this on Twitter last night. After watching all the games this weekend - and I watched most - Peyton Manning is the most important player to his team in the NFL. Kyle Orton is a close second. I'm not talking about talent. I'm talking purely about importance to his team. Kyle Orton is that important to the Denver Broncos right now. Just deal with it.

That leads me to the offensive line. No Ryan Clady, No Chris Kuper and two rookies starting their first NFL game. All things considered, I thought they did a pretty good job, especially against a pretty talented front-7 that the Bengals employ. Cincinnati was playing their second preseason game, and they were playing at home. They were a motivated group and the Broncos scored 14 points on them in the first quarter. That's a win. Especially considering the Broncos scored 14 points in 4 quarters in Week 1 last season(with the help of the Brandon Stokley play to boot!)

It is true the Broncos really didn't try to run the ball, but that too was to get Orton and his young O-Line into a groove. Ryan Harris is a better pass blocker than run blocker. Same with Russ Hochstein. What about the rookies? That's easy - Zane Beadles, who played at Utah, played on an offense that was a better passing group than running group. In 2009, Utah ranked 40th in the country in Passing Offense. They were 46th in Rush Offense.

The disparity is even bigger for J.D. Walton, a rookie trying to make the transition to be a starting center in the NFL. At Baylor, Walton anchored a line that was much better at throwing the ball(46th in the Country) than running the ball(110th). Add in the fact that the Broncos are decimated at running back, and you see why the Broncos were throwing the ball all over Paul Brown Stadium.

When the Broncos did try to run, and I am speaking of the first quarter, when the 'first team' O-Line was in the game, they did a decent job. Lance Ball, the starting running-back, ran 6-times for 27 yards. 4.5 yards per carry is acceptable in the NFL. Of course, once it became a game of back-ups, things changed. The other running backs rushed 9 times for 9 total yards. That includes Bruce Hall's 5 carries for -3 yards.

As for the pass protection, I thought it was solid, especially early. This was the first time these guys were protecting the quarterback for the entirety of the play. In Camp, the QBs aren't allowed to get hit, so despite trying to re-create game-action there really is no way to do it. Last night was the first time, and the Broncos responded by driving the field on their first drive and scoring a touchdown. I call that a success.

That brings me to another general observation. I read somewhere that 13 Broncos didn't suit up last night. We know of the serious injuries to Elvis Dumervil and Ryan Clady, but names like Brian Dawkins, D.J. Williams, Spencer Larsen, Chris Kuper, Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter didn't suit up and I know I am missing some. Those guys are expected to be a major part of what the Broncos do - on both sides of the ball - once the season starts. That means the Broncos were playing their 2nd and 3rd teams one level up in many areas. When we talk about 'depth' we tend to look at 1st string, 2nd string, etc. It is easy to say the Bengals 2nd team was 'better' than the Broncos 2nd team, and last night it was. That's because the Broncos were playing with 2nd and 3rd teamers as starters. While the results weren't perfect, I think the Broncos showed just how much depth they have. Of course, they'll need the guys I listed above to get healthy and STAY HEALTHY!

There were some negatives, and they have been well documented. In general, the tackling HAS TO GET BETTER! It was awful last night, which doesn't surprise me since this is the first live-game action the Broncos have had. Even when the team goes to pads in practice, they aren't tackling to the ground - in most cases. There is hitting, but little wrapping up and driving a guy into the ground. This will improve as the preseason goes on. It HAS TO!

The same goes for the pass rush. I thought Robert Ayers showed some power in trying to get to Carson Palmer. To give credit where it is due, Palmer has one of the quicker releases in football and knows how to move in the pocket. Ayers was consistently getting doubled and still managed to collapse the pocket at times. Remember, these guys aren't allowed to touch the quarterback in practice, so flipping a switch after 8 months is a bit of a adjustment. Someone needs to step up on the other side, however. We just need to find out if that person is on the roster now.

Champ proved he is still one of the best. He made solid plays in the first quarter against both Terrell Owens and Chad OchoCinco. The results of the game may not matter, but there is still pride involved and Champ Bailey has a ton of it.

The Broncos did a poor job on 3rd down, on both sides of the ball. 21% on offense, 50% on defense. Neither one of them is acceptable, and both are the reason the Broncos were nearly doubled up in Time of Possession(21:19 - 38:41) and why the Bengals out-gained the Broncos 409-287. Much of that was due to poor tackling, something we talked about earlier. It has to improve, on both sides of the ball.

What about the rookies? We talked about Beadles and Walton. They played the entire game and held up well, especially with the rest of the offensive line shuffling around them. To me, those young guys get an A+, even with the bad snap by Walton in the 4th Quarter.

Perrish Cox played much like a rookie. He flashed at times, he sunk at times, and the fumble on the punt return is absolutely unacceptable! We know it and so does Cox.

Now for Tebow. I inserted something I wrote a couple weeks ago about evaluating Tebow. I wanted to see him on the field, against a defense, in order to wrap my brain around him. Last night I got my chance.

That motion is, well, not fundamentally sound. We all know that. It looks worse on the practice field. That's why I wanted to see Tebow on the field in a game. Last night was why.

Tim Tebow can win with that windup. He can also get himself killed. In a lot of ways, both happened last night. What will need to improve, and it should over time, is Tebow's decision-making skills. In order to make up for the long release, Tebow will have to decide where he is going with the football faster. It is the same thing that Philip Rivers deals with. The same thing that Bernie Kosar dealt with. Rivers wins. Kosar was one Legend away from going to 3 Super Bowls.

I liked Tebow's presence in the pocket. He has an innate feel for the game. He took some shots, and he bounced right back up. That will earn him the respect of his teammates. Tebow made some throws, especially downfield, that impressed me. The drop by Matthew Willis aside, Tebow was on target and moved the Broncos offense. Like I said after seeing him at practice for the first time, the moment didn't see too big for Tebow. He fit right in. Better than Brady Quinn, to be honest.

We also saw Tebow's toughness. He took some shots, and showed everyone exactly the reason many think he will play a significant role in 2010. When Tim Tebow collides with defenders, Tebow goes forward, not backward. That happened on the touchdown at the end of the game.

I don't want to compare Tim Tebow to John Elway at any level. I take Elway and his greatness very seriously. What I will say is this. John Elway was a football player that played quarterback. He would beat you any way he could. It wasn't always pretty, not always 'text-book'. It was, however, extremely effective. That 'helicopter' play in Super Bowl 32 is the perfect example. What ever it took, Elway would do, stats be damned.

Tim Tebow is a football player that plays quarterback. You get the sense that Tebow, too, will do whatever it takes. I don't want to see him take those kinds of shots, especially in August. Elway's play came in the Super Bowl, of course, so you have to pick your spots. It was the type of play, however, I wanted to see Tebow make in the National Football League. With $20 million in the bank. Tebow did, and he bounced right up. The defender, not so much.

Right now, in August, the best compliment I can give Tim Tebow is that he is a football player in every sense of the word. For the Broncos, they can't have too many guys like that on the field or in the locker room. Regardless of what gets said about Tebow in the media this week, I guarantee you that #15 gained a ton of respect where it matters most - inside the locker room.

On to the next one. GO BRONCOS!