Call it bold, call it stupid, call it Kool-Aid--I don't really care. Say what you want, but the Denver Broncos are going to be serving a lot of crow this year.
In South Dakota, I don't get much chance to talk football outside of Brett Favre, the Minnesota Vikings, or my brothers' beloved Chicago Bears. For whatever reason, though, whenever I proudly wear my Bronco colors, someone always has a comment to make. For instance:
"The Broncos are a train wreck."
"Broncos? They will be lucky to win four games this year!"
"I didn't know the Broncos had anymore fans!"
And the comments go on...and on...and then on some more.
For whatever reason, I've had enough. Not that I care about the Bronco bashing, because after four years of mediocre football, they somewhat deserve it. But in all honesty, it doesn't take more than a casual fan to see that the Broncos have improved quite a bit off of their 8-8 campaign from a year ago. People have gotten so caught up in the hype of Brandon Marshall and Tim Tebow that they forgot the Broncos have 80 other guys on the team right now to talk about.
And that, my friends, is the reason why I write...
I recently sat at a softball tournament, proudly sporting a Denver Broncos ball cap. I was asked about the Broncos' chances this year, and I stated that 10 victories was not out of the realm of possibility if the team could generally stay healthy. The response? Laughter, combined with several snide comments. A fellow Bronco fan among them:
"Sayre, I'm as big a Bronco fan as there is, but there's no way they are winning 10 games this year."
I was then asked, "When do you think Tebow will be starting?"
Of course I replied, "Hopefully not this year unless injuries force him to. I think Kyle Orton is going to have a big year this year."
More laughter ensued.
For some odd reason, everyone thinks that our current starting quarterback sucks, for lack of a better term. In case you haven't heard, nobody thinks the Broncos are going to be good this year. I simply cannot figure it out, because nobody is assuming injuries (other than Dumervil) when making their predictions.
I asked the group of guys taunting me, "Name a spot the Broncos are weak right now on their team, minus injuries."
Perhaps not the most fair question, because injuries are just as much a part of the game as anything else, but everyone looked at me with blank stares. One person chimed in, "The defensive line sucks!"
This is where I start to get outraged, because people simply don't pay attention. How could someone have missed that the Broncos spent millions upon millions of dollars revamping their defensive line this offseason?
What the typical ESPN watching football fan doesn't know is how much the Broncos have improved. They are by far the most under-wraps team in the NFL right now, and a lot of that is thanks to Tebow Mania. I'll bet if you surveyed fans of 30 NFL teams, not including the Bengals or Broncos, you couldn't find a single one who knows who started the game at running back for the Broncos on Sunday night.
To that point, I'll bet you couldn't find a person that knows even a rough estimate of Kyle Orton's stat line from that game, which included two touchdowns on two straight drives through the air on two Pro Bowl cornerbacks and a defensive line throwing plenty of different looks at an inexperienced left side of the offensive line for the Broncos.
NFL fans aren't going to know what hit them if Kyle Orton starts throwing all over NFL defenses. We have all seen the effects of Orton playing on a bum ankle and with a dislocated finger, not to mention a glove on his throwing hand (which he hated). Orton played MVP caliber football in spite of all those things. He hurt his ankle in Chicago, and he hurt the other one in Denver. He dislocated his finger in last year's pre-season, and he played through it. When he hurt his ankle, he was a completely different player. Both of those ankles are back to full strength now, and Orton looks as confident as ever.
For what credit is given to Tim Tebow because of his toughness, people should have a new found respect for the toughness of Orton, who is poised to have the biggest season in his NFL career.
I'm not writing this to give some bold predictions about Kyle Orton. I'm not even doing it to keep tooting this guy's horn, which people have been doing of late. But Orton is getting paid about as much attention to him as your average third string quarterback, and I am ready to declare him the most underrated player in the NFL today.
Kyle Orton is the Broncos' X-factor.
You have heard it from multiple MHR writers, and you'll hear it from me yet again: The Denver Broncos are Kyle Orton's team. He will wear the captain's "C" on his chest for the second straight year, and he will be the commander of Josh McDaniels' Broncos.
Orton has made great strides in McDaniels' offensive system, and I would venture to say he speaks the language fluently, so to speak. We have seen what happens when quarterbacks gain a mastery of this offense. Pro Bowl numbers are commonplace, stars are born, contracts are renewed, and most importantly--the team wins ball games.
Orton reported to Broncos camp in much better shape than he's been his entire career in my opinion. He looks quicker, he looks more fit, and his confidence is brimming. I am not shy about my support for Tim Tebow, but I have never been more sure about anything football related as I am about Kyle Orton for 2010.
He is the real deal.
As Matt Williamson suggested on Scout's Inc., Peyton Manning may be the only player in the NFL more important to his team than Kyle Orton. As Orton goes, so will the Denver Broncos. We have all seen the disaster that is the Indianapolis Colts when Peyton Manning is not at the helm. For four quarters last year we had to suffer without Orton, watching Chris Simms contribute as much as he could to a 2-8 finish to the 2009 season.
I am willing to go so far as to say Orton has all the tools it will take to bring the Broncos to the big dance. Champ Bailey said as much, and when that guy speaks, I think Broncos Country should listen. You have all heard phrases like "head and shoulders above the rest" and "pulling away from the others" in regards to Orton and the other Broncos' quarterbacks, and you should believe it.
Provided he can stay healthy, this is the year for Orton to shine, and I think he will. He has a fine arsenal of weapons at his disposal, and when everyone is healthy, he may not have any idea what to do with himself. There will be a learning curve thanks to all the injuries, but when the Broncos hit full stride, the rest of the league had better take notice.
I am tired of Orton flying under the radar, though I don't mind it. I am one of those people where I think credit needs to be given where it is due, and this guy has more than paid his dues. But he doesn't care what anyone says. He took a gigantic media circus and turned it into the best offseason of his NFL career. He took on young Brady Quinn and "golden boy" Tim Tebow, and he flat out dominated what some have called a three-headed quarterback race, when anyone who knows anything knew all along that there was no race to be won.
Orton is standing at the finish line, polishing his shoes. He is the leader the other quarterbacks need to follow, and it's always been that way.
There has not been, nor will there be a quarterback controversy in Denver. As much as people have made about the other acquisitions at quarterback, the competition has driven Orton that much more to be "the guy," and he has more than earned that title. The pre-season opener against Cincinnati was proof enough of that.
Am I getting riled up over one quarter of work from Orton? Perhaps a little, but take a look at what has been documented over the course of this offseason. Orton is making huge strides. His job is to win football games, and he will be the catalyst for the Denver Broncos in 2010.
I guess when it comes to uninformed doubters and haters, I just need to let Orton and the Broncos do the talking. I am not one to make bets or bold predictions, but guys and gals--if Kyle Orton and the Broncos can stay relatively healthy, this team is going to be a force in the AFC. Orton isn't flashy by any means, but he will pick your team to death, and the Broncos seem to have the depth defensively to allow him to play his game.
For this year, no Bronco fan could ask for a better chess playing duo than the combination of Orton and head coach Josh McDaniels. The Denver Broncos will thrive behind Kyle Orton, and hopefully will return to AFC prominence. I am not ready to crown this team or anything, but enough is enough.
If this team is going to go down, it will go down kicking and screaming, fighting until the clock reads all zeros and there is no football left to play.
That, you can take to the bank.