Top 2 rookie QBs meet up Sunday, sort of

DENVER (AP) — The top two quarterbacks selected in the draft seven months ago will meet up on the same football field Sunday.

While top overall pick Sam Bradford leads the St. Louis Rams (4-6) into Invesco Field, Tim Tebow will serve once again as the backup to prolific passer Kyle Orton, even with the Denver Broncos idling at 3-7.

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels doesn’t want to consider what many fans are clamoring for: rushing Tebow’s NFL education now that Denver’s season is all but lost.

Even though the Broncos are last in the middling AFC West, they’re not mathematically out of the playoff hunt, so McDaniels isn’t thinking about the future as much as about fixing a franchise that’s lost 15 of 20 games for the first time in nearly 40 years.

And really, Orton is the last thing that’s wrong with the penalty-prone Broncos, who rank last in the NFL in rushing and are next-to-last in stopping the run. Denver has been beset by injuries and inconsistency all year.

Despite getting knocked around too much, Orton has thrown for 3,023 yards and 17 touchdowns while getting picked off just a half-dozen times.

Tebow, for whom McDaniels traded three draft picks to move up and select with the 25th overall pick last April, still has plenty of strides to make both mechanically and mentally as he tries to morph from a combination college quarterback, albeit one of the most decorated in history, into a prototypical pro passer.

He averages a few snaps a game and has been productive in the red zone, running for three short touchdowns and throwing for another with his lone NFL pass so far. But the playbook isn’t opened wide for him yet.

Tebowmanics will just have to bide their time while the former Florida star paces the sideline awaiting cameo appearances.

Bradford is already a rising star.

Before an ill-advised shovel pass last week, the former Oklahoma star had strung together a rookie record 169 straight pass attempts without an interception.

“That is big time,” McDaniels said. “And that’s in the middle of making plays, too. It is not like they’re just throwing screens and check-downs. If that was the case, maybe it wouldn’t be as impressive. But he’s throwing the ball down the field, he’s throwing double moves, he’s standing in there against the blitz, he is converting third-and-13s.”

Rams second-year coach Steve Spagnuolo, who famously got the best of McDaniels in the Super Bowl four years ago when the New York Giants ended the New England Patriots’ bid for a perfect season — both were rising coordinators — has a rookie quarterback learning on the job instead of watching and absorbing.

“Well, there’s a lot of ups and downs, but Sam has done a pretty good job,” Spagnuolo said. “Fortunately for us, there have been a few more ups than downs.

“It’s a process and I’d probably say all the same things any NFL coach would say. I think his growth process has been terrific. I mean, the other 10 guys around him look at him and have a lot of confidence in him. To me, that’s a big an indicator as anything.”

Bradford wasn’t slated to start from the start, though. After A.J. Feeley hurt his thumb in camp, though, “it was obvious to us that Sam should be the starting quarterback on Day 1,” Spagnuolo said.

The Rams may be under .500, but they’re just a game behind Seattle in the NFC West, the only division worse than the AFC West, where Kansas City (6-4) is the only team with a winning record.

Bradford will face a Denver secondary that’s having some issues.

Perrish Cox gets another start with Andre’ Goodman (hip/groin) missing his seventh game, and fellow rookie Syd’Quan Thompson figures to get plenty of action in the dime defense with safeties Darcel McBath (out with a thigh injury) and David Bruton (ribs) hurt.

And safety Brian Dawkins is coming off his worst game in his 1 1/2 seasons in Denver.

A month ago, the questions about Dawkins were how seemingly ageless he was, making plays at 37 like he did when he was 24. After his performance Monday night at San Diego, fans were left to wonder if time has quickly caught up to the four-time All-Pro safety who remains one of the game’s hardest hitters when he’s not left grasping at — and gasping for — air.

Dawkins’ swing and miss at receiver Patrick Crayton resulted in a 40-yard touchdown strike. He looked even worse later when he failed to take down Darren Sproles in the flat, then watched him sprint 57 yards for the score.

“There was two plays that everybody wants to talk about, but they forget about the thousands that he’s made,” Denver defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “And I think it’s really easy to go after someone like that, but every time I tell you, it takes all 11 (players) and also myself making a good call.

“And I know he’s going to bounce back, if you want to call it that — or, he’s just going to continue being the Hall of Famer that he is, which that’s the way I see it.”

The Broncos have had trouble pressuring the passer without Elvis Dumervil, the league’s reigning sacks king who was lost for the season when he ripped a chest muscle in training camp, and fellow outside linebacker Robert Ayers, who hasn’t played since fracturing a foot Oct. 10 at Baltimore.

Middle linebacker D.J. Williams leads the team with just 3 1/2 sacks.

Ayers is confident he’ll play Sunday. He hoped to return to action last week but was deactivated after warm-ups.

“I felt good, but there’s no way to simulate a 320-pound guy trying to knock you off the ball,” he said.

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