Tim Tebow takes most snaps in practice

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The debate over whether Tim Tebow is ready for this might just be moot.

Tebow is getting more snaps at practice with starter Kyle Orton nursing bruised ribs and the rookie might even get his first extended action of the season -- if not his first start -- when the Denver Broncos visit the Oakland Raiders this weekend.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said he thought Orton would be ready by Sunday, but some of his teammates weren't so sure.

Deep threat Brandon Lloyd suggested Tebow Time is close at hand.

"It's something that's going to happen. It's unfortunate that Kyle is banged up now. But Tebow playing is inevitable and so it's better now than maybe the last game of the season," Lloyd said. "I think it will be good for him and be good to ease the fans' minds. It will be good to ease all the players' minds of how well he can play in game-time situations."

Lloyd has been adamant in his support of Orton finishing out the season in the face of fans clamoring for Tebow to get a crack at running Denver's offense, but now he seems resigned to helping Tebow get through this.

Champ Bailey said he trusts Tebow, who's less than a year removed from one of the greatest college careers ever.

"I think he can take on anything thrown at him," Bailey said. "He's a guy who's seen a lot, especially through his college days. I think everybody is a little anxious to see what he does in the league."

After missing all of Wednesday's workout, Orton ran gingerly and slowly tossed a couple 5-yard throws to a staffer at the beginning of Thursday's practice but otherwise didn't participate in the few drills the media were allowed to watch.

Tebow took the bulk of the snaps in his absence with third quarterback Brady Quinn also getting some work.

Tebow has made only cameo appearances this season and thrown just one NFL pass since former coach Josh McDaniels selected him in the first round of the draft in April following his much-celebrated career at Florida, where he won two national titles and a Heisman Trophy.

Tebow still has a long way to go in morphing from a college quarterback who ran the ball as much as he threw it into a prototypical pro passer.

McDaniels was fired Dec. 6 with the Broncos (3-10) in the midst of their worst slide in four decades and the Spygate II videotape scandal that embarrassed the foundering franchise.

Interim coach Eric Studesville insisted this week that Orton is still his starter but acknowledged Thursday that the quarterback situation was unsettled with Orton's status in limbo.

Orton, who has been sacked a career-high 34 times and thrown nearly 500 passes already, was in obvious pain at the podium this week but insisted that while he was sore, his arm wasn't the issue despite poor performances the past two weeks.

His bruised ribs, however, kept him on the sideline and allowed Tebow to get most of the first-team snaps for the first time all year.

Tebow had been spending his weeks running the scout team and imitating the likes of Philip Rivers and Matt Cassel.

Now, he's just being himself.

"I think it went pretty good," Tebow said. "I think just getting more opportunities out there, more reps, that's a lot of fun for me. It's a chance to really work and improve and learn this offense even more."

Unlike previous Decembers when his body was banged up, Tebow is fresh after taking only a couple dozen snaps and "very minimal shots, if any."

Tebow had been taking about 5 percent of the snaps at practice before this week and most of those were in special packages such as goal-line and short-yardage situations. Now, he's cramming for a much bigger repertoire.

"Some plays you're doing for the first time. But for the most part everything felt pretty comfortable," he said.

Tebow also feels secure about his future in Denver despite McDaniels' firing.

Tebow, who signed a five-year, $11.25 million deal last summer, has been assured by the Broncos that he's a part of their future regardless of who their next coach is.

Asked this week if he was worried about his own status following McDaniels' ouster, Tebow said: "No sir, not exactly, because with the front office just letting me know that they had me in mind in the future, that was very comforting."

Tebow said he called McDaniels the day after his firing and they ended up consoling each other.

"He was pretty encouraging to me and I tried to be the same to him as well," Tebow said.