ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It's the one question Josh McDaniels has dreaded since his surprising selection of Tim Tebow in April: Will he jump-start his first-round draft pick's seasoning if the Denver Broncos' season starts to slips away?
The Broncos are bad: they're 3-7, the worst team in the middling AFC West. They've lost 15 of 20 for the first time since 1971-72 and they haven't won back-to-back games in nearly a year.
But they're not mathematically out of playoff contention with division leader Kansas City at 6-4. So McDaniels won't entertain the notion of giving Tebow many more snaps.
Asked Tuesday if he'd consider starting Tebow instead of Kyle Orton if the Broncos fell out of playoff contention, McDaniels said: "I don't know. I'm not willing to go there. That's not the case right now, so we will think about that when that happens. But it's not on our minds right now."
There are many obstacles to fast-forwarding Tebow Time:
—If McDaniels plays him more, that's an admission to his locker room that this is a lost season.
—The former Florida star is still very much a work in progress as he morphs from a combination college quarterback to a prototypical pro passer and doesn't appear anywhere near ready to lead an NFL team.
—The remaining schedule includes four bona fide playoff contenders and two others that are just two games out, so Tebow would face no vanilla defenses and plenty of blitz packages that could set him back too far — or put him on his back too much.
—The offensive line includes two often overwhelmed rookies in center J.D. Walton and left guard Zane Beadles, a big reason Orton has been knocked around a bunch and sacked 26 times.
—Orton is having his best year ever, already having thrown for 3,023 yards with 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
—The contract extension Orton signed this summer will pay him more than $8 million next year.
Tebow is learning how to recognize things over the middle and pass into the gut of the defense. But he's only been used occasionally this year, notably in goal line situations where his size and strength provide the Broncos with greater chances of reaching the end zone on the ground.
McDaniels has had his chances to get Tebow more playing time in the last month but declined to get him his first extensive action in three blowouts, a 59-14 loss to Oakland, a 49-29 rout of Kansas City and a 35-14 loss at San Diego on Monday night.
McDaniels insisted, however, that he hasn't seen many opportunities to get Tebow more playing time.
"We haven't had too many situations like that. But there's a lot that could go into it. I think each game is different, depending on — I think we've had the one game against Kansas City where you felt like maybe there is a situation there, but there were some other things that played into that. We're not adverse to doing it, we just haven't had many opportunities to do that this year," McDaniels said.
McDaniels finds himself in a tough spot.
If Tebow plays more and looks bad, the coach will be criticized for trading away three draft picks to move up and grab the former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion with the 25th pick of the NFL draft when no other teams considered him a first-rounder.
And McDaniels might just be trying to solidify his own job security.
Chief operating officer Joe Ellis recently told the Denver Post in the only interview he's granted on the subject that while McDaniels' job was safe this year, nothing is set in stone for 2011.
McDaniels has come under increasing scrutiny this season for his personnel decisions, including trading away Peyton Hillis for Brady Quinn. Hillis has rushed for 774 yards and eight touchdowns in Cleveland — 20 more yards and one more touchdown than the entire Broncos team has managed this season.
The Broncos felt they had cured many of their problems during the bye week, after which they routed the Chiefs. But many of the same troubles returned Monday night: penalties, poor adjustments, bad tackling.
"We are still not out of anything yet, even though I know the standings don't look the way we would like them to look at this point," McDaniels said. "So, that's doing your job and every one of us is accountable to do that and we've got to come in here and put forth our best effort, prepare hard, and see what happens."
McDaniels said his team's primary problem is inconsistency, but he had no easy answers for why.
"There is not one cause," McDaniels said. "... There's a number of different things that can affect consistency and your ability to perform well. If it was just one thing, it would be a simple answer but that's why this game is not a simple game."
Notes: CB Andre Goodman (thigh), WR Demaryius Thomas (ankle) and S Darcel McBath (thigh) have been ruled out for next weekend's game against St. Louis. ... LB D.J. Williams will undergo observation all week after sustaining a concussion Monday night.
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