While Demaryius Thomas' status hasn't created the fraction of the buzz of Tebow, his development may be just as critical to the long-term health of the franchise. The first wide receiver taken in the draft, Thomas has displayed moments of brilliance in between frequent visits to the training room.
His latest malady -- a high ankle sprain -- already has kept him out of three games, and threatens to sideline him again for Sunday's tilt in Oakland. And while Thomas remains confident he'll appear before season's end, regardless, he admits it's been a disappointing year.
"It's really been up and down," he said. "I've just had injuries back to back and I haven't been healthy. So it's been tough."
Thomas came out of Georgia Tech battling foot problems, which curtailed some of his offseason preparation. Once he returned in a rookie camp, then was able to work himself back into mental and physical shape at the beginning of training camp, he dominated for a two-day stretch in early August.
He leaped high over defenders for touchdowns. He went over their backs, too, and plucked the ball out of the air at 6-foot-3, 229 pounds, providing hope that Denver had acquired a slightly faster, less controversial version of Brandon Marshall.
"I think that's the best I ever felt since I hurt my foot," he admitted.
But at a team scrimmage he reinjured his foot, wrecking much of the remainder of his summer and keeping him out of the opener. His eight-catch performance in Week 2 for 97 yards and a TD were reminders of his abundant talent. But Thomas was blasted on a kickoff return two weeks later, hurting his hip, recovered, then turned his ankle.
His overall numbers are just 22 catches for 263 yards and two scores.
"I just figure it's a one-time thing," Thomas said of his litany of injuries. "I don't think it'll carry over. I guess I have to take better care of my body and stay on top of it."
Thomas' only rookie goal was to remain healthy all year, which hints at the disappointment he's now feeling.
"I feel like I can do a lot of good things here if I can just stay healthy. That's one of the main parts. As I started going on and stayed in the playbook, it seemed like everything just started to come along. The bad part about it is that I kept getting nagging injuries."
Thomas in recent days has spoken to veteran safety Brian Dawkins about partnering up for his offseason training regimen, though the plans are tentative. Dawkins is a notoriously hard worker who sometimes trains in Arizona with a group of other pro players.
"He's been in the league 15 years so if I want to go that way, that's a good way to go," Thomas said.
--The Tim Tebow talk is only getting louder in Denver.
However, the biggest question shouldn't be if the quarterback should play but whether can he function wholly within the Broncos' system -- especially this week.
Denver travels to inhospitable Oakland for a rematch with the Raiders, who put a 59-14 thumping on the Broncos in October.
"You can't just throw anybody in there. You have to be prepared and ready to win the game," backup running back Lance Ball said, responding to the growing Tebow chants from outside the organization. "It's easier to call names out when you're out in the crowd, but when you're in the trenches, it's a different story.
"I mean, maybe it would make him better, maybe not. You never know."
Interim coach Eric Studesville at his Monday press conference named Kyle Orton the starter despite the player's huge struggles the past two weeks that have included just a 40 percent completion rate, 283 total passing yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions.
But after what seemed like a firm commitment, Studesville did some dancing on the subject when peppered with Tebow questions.
"I can't see into the future," he said. "But we'll go through the day and evaluate our team and where we are, and we'll game-plan (Tuesday) and have all the conversations that we need to have to discover the best direction to go for us to go. Until we have those conversations and talk those things through, I don't know any more than that."
He also talked about respect for the game, integrity and a responsibility to put the best team on the field.
Reading between the lines, it may be that the organization believes Tebow simply isn't ready yet for full-time duties.
If there were a perfect opportunity to play the rookie, it might be the Dec. 26 home game vs. Houston. With fan interest waning, it would put fannies in the seats, the day after Christmas no less, against one of the NFL's worst pass defenses.
Orton, for his part, refuses to come off the field even while battling sore ribs. He has made it clear he wants to remain under center for the duration of what is one of the Broncos' most miserable seasons in decades.
"We've got to get back in rhythm in the passing game, get it going here the next three weeks and finish strong," Orton said.
--The latest embarrassment to hit the Broncos organization cropped up last week with the arrest of cornerback Perrish Cox on a felony sexual assault charge.
But after three series, Cox was inserted into Sunday's game and played extensively on defense and special teams.
The team issued a pregame statement saying that it possessed only "limited authority" to impose discipline under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
As a result, Cox was heavily fined and will await word on further penalties from the league stemming from its personal-conduct policy.
"I visited with him Saturday morning and talked to the captains," interim coach Eric Studesville said. "Then I spoke with (owner Pat) Bowlen. ... We made the decision as an organization we were fine with him playing in the game."
--One of the more interesting quotes to come out of the locker room Sunday in Arizona was given to a Denver Post reporter, when linebacker Mario Haggan talked about his team's effort in the 43-13 loss.
"We'll have to look at the film and see if everyone gave it all they had. There are some question marks, I will say that," Haggan said.
Denver's defense did hang tough in the first half despite four first-half turnovers putting the unit in poor situations. But with Arizona pushing its lead to 22-3 on the first play of the fourth quarter, things unraveled.
Tim Hightower had a 41-yard scamper to set up his own 8-yard score. The next series, Hightower went off left tackle for a 35-yard TD. Arizona finished with 211 rushing yards.
"I'm not going to stand here and believe that any man in that locker room gave up. I don't believe that," Studesville said. "I don't believe that's the quality of individuals we have in that locker room. And I don't believe that's in the character of our players. I don't believe that. I believe we gave everything we can at that moment to do everything we could in that football game."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Knowshon Moreno became the fifth player in franchise history total 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his first two NFL seasons. Moreno has a streak of five straight games with 100-plus scrimmage yards, which ties for the longest active streak in the league.
--QB Kyle Orton has twice hurt his ribs since October and while he refuses to depart games, it's possible the injury is affecting the zip on his throws. Orton is having the worst two-game stretch of his Denver career, with just 28 completions and three interceptions while taking five sacks vs. Kansas City and Arizona. No matter the case, expect Orton to say he's fine this week.
--RB Laurence Maroney's acquisition looks more preposterous by the week. He hasn't played since Oct. 17 and in the four games prior, had rushed for just a 2.1 yards-per-carry average. Denver swapped a fourth-round pick for Maroney and a sixth with New England. That's not just a steal but a heist.
--WR Britt Davis was activated off the practice squad. He originally joined the team Aug. 5 for training camp. Davis caught 146 passes for 1,676 yards with nine TDs in four years at Northern Illinois. He was on the Jets practice squad last season.
--S Kyle McCarthy, who had worked his way into the dime package, already has been placed on IR with a knee injury suffered in Arizona. The fear is that he may have a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which necessitates a six to nine month recovery period.
--TE Richard Quinn was employed some as a fullback last Sunay with Denver in a pinch. Regular FB Spencer Larsen has been out with a hamstring injury and his backup, TE Dan Gronkowski, went on IR with an ankle injury, pressing Quinn into action.
--TE Daniel Graham, a key line of scrimmage blocker in the run game, nonetheless was barely used under Josh McDaniels in the passing game, with just 15 receptions all season. Graham was targeted five times but made only one catch for three yards Sunday. A sure-handed tight end that can stretch the field should be a huge emphasis either in the draft or free agency.
--P Britton Colquitt has five games this year with a 50-yard gross average. His 56.2 mark Sunday in Arizona trails only Mike Horan (vs. Los Angeles, 1988, 57.2) and Chris Norman (vs. Seattle, 1984, 56.6) as the highest single-game punting average in Broncos history with a minimum of five attempts.
--LB Wesley Woodyard missed five games this season but is averaging 1.75 tackles on special teams, which is the highest mark in the league. Miami's Jonathan Amaya (1.71), St. Louis'; Chris Chamberlain (1.63) and Detroit's John Wendling (1.54) are next.
--WR Eric Decker may have locked up the kickoff return job for the foreseeable future with his performance Sunday. Decker had a TD wiped out by a questionable holding call but still managed to total the most return yards (211) by a Broncos player this season. He's averaging a team-high 27.6 yards on 10 attempts to date.