At Florida, Tebow was accustomed to the center identifying the middle linebacker and calling out the blocking assignments. In Denver he'll have to spell out both the play and the protection in the huddle, then make adjustments at the line. For instance, he might see a safety coming down to act as the middle 'backer. In Broncos practice, even though Brian Dawkins, number 20, isn't a middle linebacker (the Mike, in football parlance), quarterbacks might go to the line, identify Dawkins as the pivot for the defense and call out, "20's the Mike!"
The terminology, too, can be vexing. For Quinn, a certain three-man combination route in Cleveland under 2008 offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was called Ram. In 2009 Chudzinksi's successor, Brian Daboll, called the same combination Thresher. In 2010 McDaniels calls it Rifle. Said Quinn, "You better learn how to wipe the slate clean when you change offenses."
Orton knew the offense the best of the four QBs during OTAs. At one point in the second quarterbacks meeting of the day, McDaniels was reviewing a red zone pass play called Charlotte with five receivers. (A big NBA fan, he's named base pass plays after every team in the league.) The two on the left were supposed to cut outside in a part of the route called Read. Orton piped up, "How would you feel if I changed Read to Iowa here?"
Iowa meant the receivers would cut inside, rather than out. Orton's first read on the play is to look at his three wideouts to the right, and he wanted to make it so that for his second read he wouldn't have to wheel all the way around to the far left. Instead he'd just shift his field of vision to the middle. Split seconds count—that's what Orton was thinking.
McDaniels considered for a moment. "Yeah, I think so," he said. "You're more comfortable with that, Kyle? Then let's do it."
"I want to have all five guys viable," said Orton, "and if I had to spin around all the way to my left, by the time I saw everything I need to, I might be out of time."
Quinn, in contrast, said he wouldn't want to change the patterns on the left because he thought there might be too much traffic in the middle to find an open man.
"That's fine," McDaniels said later. "If Brady feels better about it, we'll call it that way for him and the other way for Kyle. You're not going to change every play depending on what each quarterback wants, but this is minor, and you want each quarterback to feel great about the play when he calls it."
McDaniels thinks there are times when a coach has to be firm, and times when he needs to bend. "Bill [Belichick] taught me that ideas should be innocent until proven guilty," McDaniels said of his former boss in New England. "Some people think ideas are guilty until proven innocent. You might suggest a play or an idea to a coach, and it gets shot down right away—like, Your idea is no good because I didn't think of it. But if you do that too often, people stop coming up with ideas. And then you might be shutting off the flow of pretty good thoughts, and you're stunting everyone's development. I don't want to be dictating. I want to be having conversations."
In every game, a defense will run coverages or rush from places the offense didn't anticipate, and the quarterback is going to have to make a play in a split second. Last season McDaniels installed a misdirection screen that Matt Cassel had completed 29 out of 30 times with the Patriots in '08. The play drove McDaniels crazy in Denver. The back would run the wrong way, or the tackle would take a bad angle to the screen point and be late. Not until Week 13, against the Chiefs, did the Broncos run it perfectly; the result was a seven-yard touchdown from Orton to receiver Brandon Marshall.