DENVER – Four things to watch as the Broncos return from the bye week for practice Monday at team headquarters:
1. THE TRADE DEADLINE.
Kyle Orton denied rumors that floated via Rotoworld on Sunday night that he had requested a trade during the regular season. Letting him go via any means would be counterproductive for all parties in any case. Orton’s contract is guaranteed and having two other quarterbacks with limited starting experience means it’s entirely possible he could be back in the lineup before the end of the regular season. This would provide him a chance to head into free agency on a higher note than his appearance against San Diego on Oct. 9.
Trading Brandon Lloyd or Eddie Royal, on the other hand, is more logical. Demaryius Thomas’s return to practice appears imminent, and when he’s ready, the Broncos want to play him to begin finding out what their top 2010 pick possesses. Eric Decker struggled against San Diego, but his four touchdown receptions represent 80 percent of the scoring catches amassed by Broncos wide receivers this season.
But the Broncos can’t deal anyone unless the price is right. Lloyd and Royal’s contracts expire after the season; if they sign elsewhere, the Broncos would receive compensatory selections in the 2013 NFL Draft. Lloyd, being a recent Pro Bowler, could merit a third- or fourth-round pick in compensation; Royal can reasonably be expected to yield a fourth- or fifth-round selection. The compensatory picks are at the ends of those rounds, thus, the Broncos would be unwise to take anything less in a potential trade by Tuesday.
History says to not expect a deal. The Broncos haven’t made a draft-deadline swap in 20 years, since sending a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions in exchange for offensive tackle Harvey Salem, who never started during his 10-game Broncos career.
2. TEBOW’S TURN.
He enters his fourth week as an NFL starter and first in this season knowing that the next 11 games will weigh heavily in determining his professional future.
The true test won’t come this week against the Dolphins, who will have the disadvantage of a short week, an injury-wrecked roster and the sight of 20,000 orange-and-blue Tebow supporters in the grandstands at Sun Life Stadium next Sunday. Nor will it even come against Detroit in Week 8, whose young first-team front four wreaked havoc on the Broncos during a preseason game in 2010 but whose overpursuit could open lanes for Tebow to sprint upfield.
The game plan will be tweaked, but not overhauled.
“There’s certain things that we can do with somebody like Tim that you can’t do with other guys,” offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said. “We’ll implement some of those things — things that are already in, we’ll run more of.”
And as for shotgun and spread formations?
“(There will be) a little bit of that, but I think we’ve got a good plan in place now,” McCoy said. “The running game is starting to get going the way we’d like it to be, so we’ll do some of those same things. But we’ll put him in the shotgun and we’ll try to utilize his talents as best we can. Whatever we can do to help the team win.
“But we’re not going to change everything we’re doing just because he’s playing.”
The games to watch for Tebow’s development are in November: at Oakland in Week 9 — where he had an up-and-down first start last December — at home against the New York Jets in Week 11 and at San Diego 10 days later. In the case of the Raiders and Chargers, previous experience against Tebow means that the second-year quarterback will have to adjust to their countermoves; as for the Jets, they will attack him frequently and with vigor.
3. TURNING THE CLOSE GAMES.
Three of the four losses this year have come by one score. In their last 16 games, the Broncos are 2-8 in games decided by 10 points or less, making them a key factor in creating their 3-13 record in that span. Merely a .500 record in those games would make them a respectable 6-10 in their last 16 contests.
The difference this year is that through four games, the Broncos have only been blown out once and their average margin of defeat has been 9.25 points, skewed by one 26-point defeat at Green Bay. In the last 12 games of 2010, they lost five games by at least 14 points, and their average margin of defeat in those games was a robust 15.0 points.
In the locker room, there exists a sense that the team is closer to a breakthrough than it was in 2010.
“One hundred percent, definitely,” defensive end Jason Hunter said. “We’re right there. We’ve just got to focus on not beating ourselves and not making those mistakes to hurt ourselves, because it’s not really what the other teams do, it’s what we do to hurt ourselves.”
4. RECOVERING FROM INJURIES.
If Royal stays, he’s expected to practice all week in the hopes of playing Sunday. Tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas are also expected to be back in uniform this week. If the Broncos go full speed into a youth movement, both Thomases could play extensively in the coming weeks. Julius Thomas could be of particular value if he can channel the flashes of summer brilliance into growth as a legitimate mid-range target who can be used effectively as a fourth wide receiver.