Kyle Orton didn't want to return to Denver next season as Tim Tebow's backup.
He's getting his wish: his name will be atop the Broncos depth chart at quarterback whenever players reconvene following the league's labor negotiations.
New coach John Fox said Thursday that Orton is his starting quarterback, not the popular but unpolished Tebow.
That could change in camp, of course, but Tebow has a long way to go to catch up to Orton, a sixth-year pro who is a better pocket passer if not as bruising a runner.
Fox's comments at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis echoed remarks made by new football chief John Elway at the Super Bowl.
"I don't think we'll really figure it out until we start competing," Fox said. "It's a group of three that are very capable. Right now Kyle Orton is our starter. We have a young guy, high draft pick, in Tim Tebow who got his feet wet last year toward the end of the season. And then shoot, Brady Quinn I'm looking forward to seeing."
When that time will come, nobody knows.
The league's contract with the union expires March 3, and players are expecting a protracted lockout by owners pushing for more games and a tighter grip on revenues.
After signing his four-year extension this week, Broncos captain Champ Bailey said he didn't think there would even be a season in 2011.
"Not really. I've been pessimistic about this thing from Day One. Ever since our union leader came and talked to us last year during the season, it just kind of opened my eyes like there might not be football," Bailey said.
Elway told The Associated Press last month that if a work stoppage lasts through the summer, it would be hard to get Tebow up to speed in Fox's new system in such a short time.
Orton started the first 13 games last season but gave way to Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner and national college champion, for the final three games.
Former Broncos 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 then completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 3,653 yards and 20 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
Behind a line that included rookies J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles and a gimpy Ryan Clady, Orton was sacked 34 times, however, and eventually was sidelined by bruised ribs.
He went 3-9 in his starts.
Tebow completed 41 of 82 passes for 654 yards with five TDs and three interceptions and ran 43 times for 227 yards and six touchdowns. He won one of the three games he started.
Quinn, whom McDaniels acquired shortly before drafting Tebow in a much-derided trade that sent running back Peyton Hillis to Cleveland, didn't take a single snap in Denver last year.
Although skeptics might think the Broncos are trying to increase Orton's value on the trade market, Fox scoffed at the notion Orton was being shopped around.
"I think it would be pretty hard to be both" Denver's starter and also trade bait, Fox said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's under contract and he's our starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos."
Fox also said he thought former first-round pick Robert Ayers will benefit from the Broncos' switch from a 3-4 defensive scheme to a 4-3, in which Elvis Dumervil will also move back to defensive end from outside linebacker.
Ayers has just 1 1/2 sacks in his two seasons in the NFL, and the team's evaluation of him will help them determine what to do with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft in April, which they could use to select Clemson pass-rusher Da'Quan Bowers, who led the nation with 15 1/2 sacks last season.
Fox said that in his evaluation of Ayers coming out of college, "I saw him as a 4-3 defensive end."
"He has played primarily as a 3-4 outside linebacker. We have him penciled in as a defensive end. I think he was probably a little easier to evaluate coming out of college as an end because that's what he played at Tennessee," Fox said. "I have the utmost confidence that he will be a productive player for us this coming year."
Fixing the deficient defense is Denver's top priority. McDaniels focused on offense in his two drafts in Denver and the Broncos had dived to dead last in several defensive categories by the time he was fired in December amid the team's worst slide in four decades.