Lombardi, in a column for the league's official website, stated that Denver's holdover staff was "distancing" itself from quarterback Tim Tebow, a first-round pick last April, and with Kyle Orton considered a placeholder at the position, the situation created a dilemma for Denver as it prepares for this year's draft.
Broncos general manager Brian Xanders issued a strong denial at the annual Scouting Combine, calling the story "false."
"There are a lot of people in our building that are behind Tim Tebow," Xanders said. "He had a very successful (college) career at Florida and he is working hard in his career to be a better quarterback at the NFL level. He is somebody that the franchise invested a lot into, in terms of draft picks and the contract, but he is going to create his role and has done a good job so far with his limited opportunities."
For the time being, Orton will remain atop the depth chart, with Orton and Brady Quinn - another former first-round pick, in tow.
John Elway, Denver's executive vice president of player personnel, met with Orton late last week to lay out that scenario with the player and avoid any confusion.
Former head coach Josh McDaniels, the primary force in drafting Tebow, got sideways in a public spat with Jay Cutler in early 2009, leading to the player eventually being dealt. Elway has vowed to keep the lines of communication open to avert a similar scenario with the current Broncos' quarterbacks.
"We are in February, but if we had to play a game tomorrow, Kyle would be the guy," Elway said. "We will continue down that path. Obviously we have the draft and a lot of things ahead of us. Until that changes - it's not going to change until we get down the road and see what happens."
There has been speculation this offseason that Orton might be dealt to a quarterback-starved team such as Tennessee, Arizona, San Francisco or Minnesota. The team continues to publicly stick to the Orton-as-starter script over him playing in another uniform.
"Obviously it's going to be pretty hard to be both," coach John Fox said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's under contract and he's our starting quarterback ... I can't predict Week 1, you know what I mean? But that's where we are today."
Orton started the first 13 games last season, passing for 3,653 yards with a 58.8 percent completion rate. A rib injury gave Tebow a starting opportunity in December, and while Orton was ready to play by Week 16, the team stuck with the rookie. That alienated Orton and only added to Tebow's popularity, which already was off the charts.
Tebow flashed the competitive fire that made him a collegiate legend in finishing 1-2 as starter but also didn't answer ongoing questions as to whether he'll eventually deserve the mantle of franchise quarterback.
"We feel great about that position group as a whole," Xanders maintained. "Brady Quinn, Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton - we have a strong group there. We feel like they will all compete and fight for their jobs and their roles."
That said, Denver will evaluate the quarterback position in April's draft and "give it fair due and a fair chance on our board, no matter who we have on our team," Xanders added.
--New defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's career took an unanticipated U-turn that ultimately landed him in Denver.
In 2006, Allen was a leading candidate to become defensive backs coach for Tampa Bay, but then-Bucs coach Jon Gruden apparently didn't go through the usual channels to receive permission, alienating Allen's employer at the time, Atlanta.
Instead, Allen also interviewed with Sean Payton for an assistant defensive line coach position and, in large part because proper etiquette was used this time around, was offered and accepted that job instead.
Five years later, Allen left the Saints as that defensive backs coach - and once again was sought after. He took Denver John Fox's offer over one from Philadelphia's Andy Reid in January.
"It was destiny for me to be in New Orleans," Allen recalled of his path to the present. "As things turned out, it worked out quite well and I was able to win a championship there, and I've been able to parlay that into a coordinator's job in Denver. You can't ever look at those situations and look back and say what if this or what if that. You have to take every situation as it comes and make the best of those situations."
--Coach John Fox said during his draft prep in Carolina he projected Denver OLB Robert Ayers as a 4-3 defensive end. Ayers has played outside linebacker the last two years, and while the 2009 first-round pick has demonstrated some power at the point of attack, his skills haven't translated to results as a pass rusher.
"We've got him penciled him as a defensive end," Fox said. "And I'm confident he'll be a productive player for us in the 4-3."
Ayers right now would flank the returning right defensive end, Elvis Dumervil, coming off surgery to repair a torn chest muscle. Fox's plan is to have Dumervil be a three-down player, that despite the NFL's sack leader in '09 struggling some vs. the run on early downs in that full-time role.
The deficiencies of the two projected starters leaves open the possibility that Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers could be drafted No. 2 as a rotational option at end that gets Bowers and Dumervil on the field at the same time on third down - a potent 1-2 punch -- and perhaps provides some early-down help vs. the run for Dumervil.
--Expect Denver to target a running back somewhere in the draft or free agency.
DeAngelo Williams, the former No. 1 pick of Fox and the Panthers, could be on the market after Carolina declined to place the franchise tag on him. And while the Broncos' coach wouldn't talk about Williams' talents since he's still technically property of another team - Carolina may under the CBA be able to label Williams a restricted free agent - Fox did cite the need to give Knowshon Moreno help in Denver's backfield.
"You need more than one back to consistently run it through the season and ... to make a full commitment to running the ball. We'll be in the process of finding more than one guy."
General manager Brian Xanders called the draft class at running back "deeper than I've seen it in a long time."
--Xanders' first job at the NFL Scouting Combine came in 1997 as a runner, chasing down players at the train station as a 26 year old working for Dan Reeves in Atlanta.
Times since then have certainly changed, with the annual NFL rookie meat market transforming itself from an informal gathering to a structured, corporate environment.
Interviews are pre-arranged by teams, unlike the Wild-West atmosphere Xanders first experienced.
"There would be fights in the hallway. Guys would be grabbing players," he recalled. "They said if they could put a man on the moon then we can organize these interviews. So it made it more of a peaceful, calm and methodical (atmosphere)."
Denver coaches this weekend had assigned interviews with more than 250 college prospects in Indianapolis, including some potential college free agents. Xanders didn't even have to sharpen his pugilistic skills to get a few words in with those prospective Broncos - though he thinks back fondly on the old rough-and-tumble days.
"I didn't lose," he said with a smile.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It means a lot because you don't see it happen very often. But I've got to be honest. Not to be arrogant or anything, I don't come around very often either." - CB Champ Bailey, a 10-time Pro Bowl participant, on the Broncos giving $22.5 million in guaranteed money to a player turning 33 next season, an unprecedented outlay for someone at the corner position at that age.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
There are no hard guidelines for the type of defensive linemen the Broncos will target to help reshape a unit that ranked last in yards allowed per game. But it will be interesting to watch unfold how the divergent backgrounds of coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, in particular, mesh into a singular philosophy.
Fox's teams in Carolina have preferred a beefy front, rather than the smaller, quicker blueprint of some clubs along the defensive line. Allen's resume' working under Gregg Williams was predicated on speed, athleticism and aggression in the trenches.
Denver identified pre-combine its parameters at the strong, weak and middle linebacker spots, and while the Broncos are likely to favor larger tackles and ends, the player personnel department at the combine was set to put the defensive front under a similar microscope to flesh out the specs the team seeks from prospects at the left and right end, three-technique DT and nose.
Even with the signing of CB Champ Bailey, there is the possibility Denver could target LSU's Patrick Peterson with the No. 2 pick or trade down slightly to nab him. Peterson's size-speed ratio would fit any scheme and in Denver's case.
CB Perrish Cox is facing a possible suspension under the personal conduct policy and starting right cornerback Andre Goodman coming off an injury-ravaged year, is big trouble for a defense already ranked No. 32 in 2010.
Overall, the Broncos will concentrate on rebuilding its front seven both in the draft and in free agency, while keeping tabs on right-tackle prospects with Ryan Harris due to hit free agency and seemingly on the outs with the organization.
A couple of free agents to potentially keep an eye on are running back DeAngelo Williams, who would help take some of the pressure off Knowshon Moreno while adding a playmaker to the backfield. They also desperately need a dual-threat tight end, with Owen Daniels and Mercedes Lewis two of the top names available.
1. Defensive tackle: The Broncos have tried a long line of patchwork fixes in the middle of the front four for years. Now is time to get serious about rebuilding from within. If Auburn's Nick Fairley doesn't go to Carolina at No. 1 in the draft, he'd have to be considered near the top of the team's list.
2. Safety: Denver has gone the free-agent route several times since 2000 and few have lasted for the long haul. Brian Dawkins remains a top-notch leader but doesn't have the speed-athleticism combination that Allen is looking to infuse within the defense. Free safety Renaldo Hill is a heady player but doesn't consistently make big plays and is limited in coverage.
3. Middle linebacker: D.J. Williams has moved around from strong to weak to middle linebacker and back again over the last five years. But in a base 4-3 alignment, he lacks the desired thump with which to build a defense around.
MEDICAL WATCH: General manager Brian Xanders said there are a "lot of different diagnoses" on the length of the comeback facing WR Demaryius Thomas, who had surgery in February to repair a torn Achilles tendon. The team originally placed the timeline at 6-8 months. Xanders expressed optimism that Thomas can help the team this year in a regularly-scheduled, non-CBA interrupted season. The medical staff has most recently shepherded RB LenDale White's comeback from a similar injury suffered last August. White was doing pool work four months into his recovery, without having attempted to jog. "Those Achilles tears are not good," Xanders noted. "But we feel good about our (medical) staff and the potential with rehab."
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