ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — For all of the debate over Tim Tebow’s development as a passer, the Denver Broncos may just need him to revert to a running quarterback come Sunday.
With top tailback Willis McGahee missing practice Wednesday following surgery to fix a broken finger, the Broncos (2-4) are down to two healthy backs, leaving Tebow as one of their leading rushing threats against the Detroit Lions (5-2).
Knowshon Moreno, who was supplanted as the starter by McGahee, and third-stringer Lance Ball took the bulk of the reps at practice. They figure to get a lot of action this weekend.
That is, when Tebow isn’t making things happen with his feet instead of his arm.
Any plans to run more?
“I’m going to do whatever they ask me to do. I will do it with all my heart for 60 minutes or longer,” Tebow said. “But Knowshon and Lance are going to step up and play well for us.”
McGahee, a free-agent acquisition from Baltimore, was off to a solid start in coach John Fox’s run-oriented offense before breaking a finger on his right hand in Miami. He’s expected to miss the game Sunday, even if Fox didn’t entirely rule him out.
“I’ve seen guys play — offense, defense — with casts,” Fox said. “A lot of it will depend on how fast he recuperates.”
This could open the door once again for Moreno, who spent the offseason reshaping his body through vigorous workouts to be ready to handle a heavy workload.
But Moreno tweaked his hamstring in the season opener against Oakland, didn’t play in the next two games and has watched McGahee flourish. Moreno has been used more in passing situations, scoring his only TD of the season against San Diego when he took a screen from Tebow and raced 28 yards.
Moreno isn’t looking at this as a chance to prove himself again — just a shot to be on the field more again.
“It’s going out there and playing ball,” said Moreno, a third-year pro from Georgia. “That’s all it comes down to really.”
Moreno insists the hamstring is getting stronger by the week and that he can carry the ball 18 to 20 times if necessary. He has only 17 attempts so far this season.
“I think so,” he said. “This whole week, getting well and getting out there and running on it will be good for it.”
Cutting into Moreno’s time in the backfield could be Ball, who has carried the ball 15 times for 54 yards this season. Ball also picked up a big first down late against Miami to keep the Broncos’ rally afloat.
“It’s always good to have opportunities to show that you can go out there and step up,” said Ball, who played at Maryland. “Nothing really big in this room — just next guy up. I’ve been playing in and out the whole season. This is nothing too crazy for me.”
The Lions are certainly not feeling any empathy for the Broncos’ bruised backfield situation. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz doesn’t think Denver will miss a beat should McGahee be sidelined.
“They have other good players,” Schwartz said. “Knowshon was hurt earlier in the season and he’s just coming back. Lance Ball’s a good back when you give him the ball.
“Tim Tebow runs the ball a bunch.”
That he does. But he’s trying to be more prudent about it.
When Tebow drifts back in the pocket, he fights the urge to simply take off when his first receiver isn’t available. But he’s still a work in progress in that regard.
“You have to be very wise when you choose to do either,” Tebow said. “It just plays into you being a great decision maker, which I’m trying to improve on every day.”
Tebow was the team’s second-leading rusher against the Dolphins, scrambling for 65 yards on eight attempts. His biggest run of the day was when he made something out of nothing.
After dropping back to pass, Tebow spun away from an oncoming rusher near the goal line, tucked the ball and took off down the field, rumbling for 21 yards.
That’s a dimension Tebow can bring to the run game. One that teams are trying to thwart by putting a spy on him.
“It presents some challenges for a defense,” Schwartz said of Tebow’s scrambling ability. “He’s a good combination of size and strength and speed. But I think it’s more his willingness to act like a running back and make a play that way, willing to take a hit, and those kind of things, that make him maybe a little bit different than (other) guys.
“We’re going to have to work real hard at containing him.”
Notes: DE Elvis Dumervil sat out practice Wednesday with a balky ankle, while fellow DE Robert Ayers (knee) was back on the field. … Asked about the effect his soaring popularity has on teammates, Tebow simply grinned. “That’s just something that they blow off more than anything, or we laugh about or they tease me about,” he said. “We’ve got a much better relationship to let anything like that get in the way.” … The Broncos will wear orange uniforms Sunday.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)