Broncos’ Options Beyond Tebow Are Few

The are trying to race into production after a brief retirement imposed by Mike Brown, the owner of the . Palmer was once the classic quarterback, a tall and imposing figure in the pocket. Injuries have now diluted him and perhaps sapped some of his arm strength. His brief play against Kansas City on Oct. 23 before the Raiders’ bye was disastrous, and predictably so, given that he had gotten the playbook only a few days earlier and had not absorbed the protections or plays. But after the rust is shaken off, there is little question that Palmer, for whom the Raiders yielded a first-round draft pick and another pick that could become a first-rounder, is the team’s quarterback now and in the future.

The rest of the league might have tittered about what the Raiders gave up for Palmer. But to the , the price the Raiders paid for certainty at quarterback probably doesn’t seem that high. The Broncos are trying to create a conventional quarterback out of unconventional materials: ’s multidimensional skills might still make him better suited to play H-back or tight end than quarterback. After Sunday, the Broncos’ patience seemed about as short as the time Palmer had to get ready to resume his career. The results next Sunday when Oakland hosts Denver will probably show it, too.

Brian Billick, who faced Palmer when he coached the Baltimore Ravens, has questions about the soundness of Palmer’s arm after his elbow operation. But if his arm proves healthy, he has little doubt about Palmer’s ability.

“You’re talking about a guy who has been productive in this league,” Billick said. “Although it won’t be perfect, we’ll see a different Carson Palmer than we did two weeks ago. If his arm is sound enough, then they’ll have something special.”

Billick is not so sure about Tebow’s future. Broncos Coach John Fox seemed to leave the door open to changing quarterbacks for Sunday’s game, after the Broncos were blown out at home by the , 45-10.

Asked Monday afternoon if Tebow would start next Sunday, Fox replied, “For this week, yes.”

The reality, though, is that the Broncos have few options. They have made clear, by benching him, that their future will not be with Kyle Orton. The Denver Post wondered if the backup Brady Quinn could be any worse. But if the Broncos are serious about finding out if Tebow can develop into the kind of quarterback they want, they have to give the Tebow experiment more time — at least a few more weeks. Sunday was Tebow’s fifth career start and just the second under Fox and the Broncos’ football guru, John Elway.

Last week, Herman Edwards, the former Jets and coach, recommended that the Broncos use more of the spread formation and abandon the quest to force Tebow into a conventional role for now.

The Broncos tried, using some read option plays familiar from Tebow’s college days at Florida. But the Lions were determined to have Tebow be a quarterback, take away his running game and force him to pass. It sounds counterintuitive — does any team want to force Aaron Rodgers to pass? — but such is the Broncos’ situation. They have a quarterback who struggles with the most basic act so much that other teams hope he will throw. The Lions stacked the line of scrimmage in a preview of what the Broncos will certainly see more of. Before Monday night’s game, the Raiders ranked 16th against the run and 25th against the pass. They will surely take their chances that Tebow will not be able to breach their passing defense with consistency.

Any chance of playing a more up-tempo game Sunday was trashed by the Lions, who sacked Tebow seven times, forced one fumble that was returned for a touchdown, intercepted a pass that was returned for another score, and forced eight drives that lasted three plays or fewer. The Lions even mocked the “” prayer pose that became an Internet phenomenon last week, in the wake of Denver’s comeback from a 15-point deficit against the . Tebow finished the day with 18 completions in 39 attempts for 172 yards, and 10 rushes for 63 yards.

“We’re increasingly seeing what Tim Tebow is about,” Billick said. “It was against a good pro defense. Where I question Tebow’s style of play — the spread, run the ball along with throwing ball — can you be productive? To a degree, against lesser teams, you can. Can you win in this league? Can you sustain it against good teams? No.”

Billick says one of two things has to happen. Broncos officials have to decide that Tebow is such an extraordinary talent that they will build the entire team around him and his unique abilities (that means they would have to find a backup quarterback with the same abilities) and play a style of football that has never succeeded in the N.F.L. Or they can try to develop him into a pro-style quarterback.

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