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Broncos-Cowboys preview: Can Tim Tebow play his way out of ever starting at QB?

At first glance, no one should give a single damn about a Denver Broncos-Dallas Cowboys preseason game given the teams' miserable seasons a year ago. But because of the quarterback drama in Denver between alleged trade-bait Kyle Orton and anointed one Tim Tebow, as well as the 'Boys high-profile comeback effort, NFL fans everywhere are eagerly awaiting the contest. Too bad they're likely to be disappointed.

Yes, ESPN talking heads have been jabbering overtime about whether or not Tebow can actually play, with some commentators suggesting that the Cowboys contest will offer definitive answers to that question. But in all likelihood, Big Tim will be matched with Broncos backups against Dallas second-stringers -- which won't provide either coaches or fans with a true measure of his abilities. If he stinks up the joint and looks completely discombobulated, his stock could fall a bit further than it already has with new coach John Fox's staff, if not the majority of fans. Still, such grades would be on the curve.

The situation is somewhat different for Kyle Orton. In light of his starting role, he'll be expected to perform well -- and if he truly excels, he'll quiet some of the Tebow lovers, if not silence them entirely. However, he probably won't play for a long time, and considering the short training camp, rough patches are to be expected. Hence, any determinations about his ability to produce more victories, as opposed to decent stats in losing efforts, will be premature.

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More important overall is the performance of the Broncos defense -- the real reason the squad sunk to levels not seen since Steve Tensi was under center. There are a great many new faces, led by top draft pick Von Miller. If they can avoid allowing the Cowboys to run through them unmolested and show some semblance of efficiency on third down, the thus-far-inexplicable optimism bubbling among the Broncos faithful will at least have some small evidence to use as a foundation.

In the end, though, the game will almost certainly fail to meet the enormous expectations that Broncos Nation is bringing to it. So look for signs, not conclusions. And be prepared for the quarterback controversy that's consumed the off-season to date to continue unabated.

More from our Sports archive: "Tim Tebow can't play, Kyle Orton should be Broncos QB, tweets ESPN's Merril Hoge."

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