Broncos Update Insider - 12/22

The was no more vocal critic about the Broncos potentially playing Tim Tebow over Kyle Orton than wide receiver Brandon Lloyd the last couple weeks.

One example: "It's insane out here, the cry for Tebow," he said during a conference call leading up the eventual 39-23 loss in Oakland. "As a veteran player, I say I want to play with the guy who gives us the best shot of winning, and that's Orton."

It's not hard to decipher why Lloyd would fall on Orton's side, in one respect: Working with the veteran quarterback, Lloyd is having a career and perhaps even a Pro Bowl season.

But asked to clarify his viewpoints on the QB battle, which eventually came down to Orton's injured ribs not allowing him to play Sunday, Lloyd had a more thoughtful than visceral reaction.

"I'm not being loyal to Kyle and anti-Tim," he insisted before Sunday's game. "But it's difficult playing as a rookie quarterback -- and I know because I played with one, where there's high expectations, and then not to perform .... "

That quarterback was Alex Smith with San Francisco in 2005. Smtih couldn't live up to his hype and draft status immediately, and in some ways still is struggling playing under new offensive coordinators year after year.

"It's not that I'm trying to protect Tim at all, but it's not easy, and as a veteran, I want to play with the player I'm most comfortable with that gives you the best opportunity to win," Lloyd added.

Lloyd's feelings were assuaged somewhat by Tebow's debut effort. It wasn't a masterpiece by any standard, but Tebow was poised, didn't take unnecessary risks, ran the offense and accounted for two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in Denver's ninth loss in 10 games.

"He did what we expected of him," Lloyd said of Tebow's 8-of-16 performance that appeared purposely scaled back so not to shake the rookie's confidence. "He kept his poise, kept his composure. Even when it was tough out there, he kept us in the game. Usually when you have a rookie quarterback, you always want to be prepared in case he messes up the play call, you can tell him what the play is (laughs). He didn't have any of those situations where he called the wrong play for a receiver. I was impressed. I think he did a really good job."

Tebow will get a second chance, too, Sunday against Houston. Interim coach Eric Studesville said Monday that he met with owner Pat Bowlen and chief operating officer Joe Ellis and suggested that the rookie get the start. The team's top two power brokers agreed.

"We're proud of Tebow," safety Nate Jones said. "Given the situation, he went out there and played his butt off. He's a rookie coming in here. He got thrown into the fire at the end of the season. He went out there and played well. He played strong, played with some guys, played with some heart. He made some plays. That's all you can ask for, and you expect him to grow."

NOTES, QUOTES

--One player clearly getting a future audition as the season comes to a merciful end is backup running back Lance Ball.

A spate of injuries in camp made Ball the go-to rusher in the preseason, and after a practice squad stint, he's since surpassed both Correll Buckhalter and Laurence Maroney in the pecking order.

On Sunday, with Knowshon Moreno knocked out of the game, Ball didn't do much to help his case. He rushed for 20 yards on 15 carries; worse, he dropped a sure touchdown pass.

"It was going to be a tough catch," he said. "I thought (the linebacker) was going to block it, but it went through his hands. It would have been a good catch, but it turned out how it turned out. You've just got to move on."

Denver is almost certainly going to cut ties with Maroney and Buckhalter moving forward. LenDale White still is rehabilitating from a torn Achilles and won't start running to at least next month.

Given Moreno's injury problems, it would hardly be surprising if Denver added a veteran running back or a young sparkplug from the draft to the mix before 2011.

"I think every game, every day in practice I'm getting better," Ball said. "It's good to put something on film and see what I've got. And hopefully things work out."

--There is little question that Denver's biggest overhaul this offseason will come on the defensive side of the ball. The franchise proved it once again by giving up 502 yards to the Raiders, pushing the two-game season series total to 1,010 yards.

Worse yet, Denver yielded 328 rushing yards in the Oct. 24 home embarrassment to Oakland and knew what was coming in Part II. The results: The Raiders carried the ball 41 times for 264 yards with three TDs.

"On the defensive side of the ball, we need drastic improvement as far as points allowed, yards and competing on that side," acting general manager Brian Xanders said last week. "So there likely will be a major investment on the defensive side of the ball in the draft or in free agency in an attempt to get it to the top-10 level."

It could get worse before it gets better.

Houston's Arian Foster, the NFL's leading rusher, visits town this week, knowing full well the Broncos have given up an average of 220 ground yards the last three weeks.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--OLB Kevin Alexander was arrested for investigation of misdemeanor assault and battery Monday morning, and he was promptly cut from the team. Alexander had been playing a nominal role on defense and on special teams. He's the second Broncos linebacker arrested in recent months, after D.J. Williams, who faced a DUI charge.

--CB Champ Bailey is headed for free agency, but acting general manager Brian Xanders hinted every attempt would be made to keep Denver's best players "and there's different ways to do that." That could hint at the franchise tag for the nine-time Pro Bowl pick if the Broncos don't improve on the extension offer they ended up pulling in October.

--FB Spencer Larsen has battled ankle and hamstring problems this season, and he left Sunday's game with another ankle injury. The Broncos could use TE Richard Quinn in a pinch, since Larsen's the only fullback on the roster, or in heavy packages, employ OG Russ Hochstein as a lead blocker.

--CB Andre Goodman appears to be over the nagging thigh/hip issues that have wrecked his season. He's made it through the last two games, having played extensively and averting any setbacks. That's important to the player to prove he can get back to his previous high level of performance and to the team moving forward in its decision-making process.

--PK Steven Hauschka, filling in for Matt Prater (groin), likely will earn himself a look with another team after a solid performance in muddy conditions in Oakland. Hauschka had some issues in his first game at Arizona but had worked only sparingly with his holder/snapper. Those timing issues were smoothed over, and Hauschka nailed kicks of 46, 35 and 45 yards Sunday.

--DL Kevin Vickerson's first-quarter interception Sunday was the first by a Denver lineman since Marcus Thomas had one on Oct. 5, 2008.


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