LeBron James supports Tim Tebow

Opinion on Tim Tebow's NFL future is clearly divided, but count LeBron James among the many fans of the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

James took to Twitter on Wednesday, supporting Tebow and proclaiming, "Tim Tebow will succeed in the NFL. He's a hard worker, a student of the game, a natural born leader and most of all a WINNER! It takes time and he'll be nice."

James' tweets were in response to comments from ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge's criticism of Tebow earlier Wednesday on Twitter and "SportsCenter."

Hoge wrote on Twitter: "Sitting watching tape off bronco offense from last year! Orton or Tebow? It's embarrassing to think the broncos could win with tebow!!"

Appearing on "SportsCenter" Wednesday, Hoge, a former running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers, offered a strongly worded critique of Tebow's game.

"He is awful as far as accuracy goes and what's kind of even more disturbing, he's probably worse moving and running around with the football and throwing than he is from the pocket," Hoge said. "Can you get better there? A little bit. If everything is perfect, the pocket, your feet are good, all your fundamentals come into place, the coverage is what you want it, you can be successful. But that doesn't happen at the National Football League. Rarely does that happen."

James, the Miami Heat star who has dealt with his own share of media criticism, used Twitter to back Tebow late Wednesday night.

"Listened to Merril Hoge today on SC and he was just blasting Tebow. The man hasn't even play a full season and its only his 2nd year in," James wrote. "Guys get on that TV and act like they was all WORLD when they played. How bout encouraging him and wishing him the best instead of hating!!"

Tebow, who is entering his second season with the Denver Broncos, responded to Hoge as well on Twitter, saying, "Hey Merril...... 'ppreciate that."

Hoge said during a Thursday appearance on ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning:" "They think it's a personal attack. It's purely a football evaluation ... I never said he's a bad guy. In fact, I know he's a great guy. I've met him. It's a football evaluation based on over 25 years of studying this league, working in this league."

Hoge added that part of Tebow's issue is where he was drafted -- the first round. "The skill set he possessed in college is not a first-round grade. No how. No way."

Tebow and veteran Kyle Orton are currently battling for Denver's No. 1 quarterback job. Thus far in training camp, Orton has taken almost all of the snaps with the first team in practice, while Tebow has been splitting second-team reps with Brady Quinn.

However, new Broncos coach John Fox maintained Wednesday that he hasn't made up his mind about the starter and the battle is ongoing.

"My story's been the same regardless of what you hear," Fox said. "And I'm in those meetings every day and know what's said to everybody. Nothing's changed. We've been singing the same song as seven months ago."

League sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter last week that the Broncos and Miami Dolphins were discussing an Orton trade, but talks fell apart. The Dolphins eventually signed veteran quarterback Matt Moore to compete with Chad Henne.

Orton, due $8.829 million this season, received a $1.5 million roster bonus Friday, a source told ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt, greatly reducing the chances he will be dealt.

Tebow has become a fan favorite in Denver since former coach Josh McDaniels traded three draft picks to select the passionate but unpolished Tebow in the first round last year.

By training camp, however, it was obvious that Tebow was a project and Orton was the far better quarterback. Orton signed an $8 million extension for 2011 during training camp, and completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 3,653 yards and 20 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Tebow took over for the final three games as the Broncos' disappointing season dwindled to a 4-12 finish.

The Broncos' top wide receiver, Brandon Lloyd, spent a part of his locked-out offseason working out with Tebow in an effort to better their chemistry. When the lockout ended and the Broncos reported for camp July 27, Lloyd described Orton's presence as awkward.

On Monday, Lloyd alluded to the mile-high controversy as "the Tebow Thing."

"They'll put Kyle on the trading block because they don't want to deal with the Tebow Thing," Lloyd told SI.com. "But it's not going to end until (Tebow) plays. The faster they get this Tebow Thing over with, one way or the other ..."

Tebow, who has attempted to change his much-criticized slingshot-like throwing motion, went 1-2 as a rookie, completing 41 of 82 passes for 654 yards, five TDs and three interceptions with six sacks. He also rushed for 227 yards and six scores.

Despite his mixed on-field success, Tebow's off-field profile continues to grow. He landed an advertising campaign with Jockey in March and his memoir "Through My Eyes" debuted at No. 6 on the New York Times bestseller list. Tebow's jersey also has been among the most-popular on NFLShop.com.

McDaniels also acquired Orton through a trade, adding him in the Jay Cutler deal two years ago. He has amassed 7,455 yards passing and 41 touchdowns as the Broncos' starter the past two seasons, but won just 11 of 29 starts.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.