ENGLEWOOD • The words felt unnatural coming out of Denver Broncos rookie Tom Brandstater’s mouth.
“As a starting quarterback … that actually sounds crazy to say, ‘starting quarterback,’” Brandstater said. “But I’m starting on Thursday and there’s a lot of work that needs to be put into being the guy.”
Many more people would feel uneasy if Brandstater is saying the same words next week. Brandstater will get the call for Thursday’s preseason finale, and the team isn’t sure yet who will play in the season opener Sept. 13 at Cincinnati.
Starter Kyle Orton has an injured right index finger, and coach Josh McDaniels wouldn’t put a timetable on his return. He sounded optimistic about Orton’s chances of playing but couldn’t give a definitive answer.
“I’m hopeful he’ll be ready to roll here next week, but I don’t want a put a timetable on him,” McDaniels said.
McDaniels sounded a bit more optimistic about backup Chris Simms, who has a high ankle sprain.
“Hopefully he’ll be ready to go next week,” McDaniels said. “He’s busting his butt to get out here as soon as he can.”
The good news is Brandstater made some strides Sunday. In his first preseason game, at Seattle on Aug. 22, he had only 1 yard passing and was sacked four times. Against Chicago on Sunday he completed 8-of-12 passes for 110 yards.
“Something clicked, I felt so much better,” Brandstater said. “It wasn’t that nervous second-guessing anymore.”
The Broncos are getting better at tailback. Rookie first-round pick Knowshon Moreno practiced for the first time since hurting his knee at San Francisco on Aug. 14, and LaMont Jordan returned after missing last week with an undisclosed injury. McDaniels said he wouldn’t rush Moreno back but wouldn’t rule him out of Thursday’s game.