DENVER — If it's not exactly a return to the scene of the crime, it was at the very least a heist.
The Denver Broncos open the pre-season in Cincinnati on Sunday night against the Bengals. It marks the teams' first appearance at Paul Brown Stadium against each other since Sept. 13, 2009, when Denver wide receiver Brandon Stokley caught a pass that was batted into the air and ran into the end zone for an 87-yard play in the waning seconds to complete what was widely called "The Immaculate Deflection." It was one of the NFL's top plays last year.
"It will go down as one of my favorite plays of all time," said Stokley, who kept the ball and the gloves he wore that day as souvenirs. "It was a right-place, right-time type of deal, but it definitely brings a smile to my face."
That level of drama won't be matched in all likelihood Sunday, with many players just fighting to crack rosters. Still, given Stokley's strong week of practice, it won't be out of the question that the veteran wideout at least makes his presence felt.
There was a point in the off-season, with all the roster additions at the receiver position and Stokley's advancing age (34), whether he had a place on Denver's roster. That notion seems foolish now, after Stokley consistently connected with Kyle Orton this week on third-down completions and starred in red-zone and goal-line periods in training camp.
"There's a lot of young guys in the huddle right now, so it's nice to have veteran faces in there that have done it before," Orton said. "I know he's feeling good and, really, his route running has never been better since I've been working with him."
Stokley's snaps were limited last season, but he did crack the lineup in key situations. It's possible he's set himself up for a similar role this year, while being a mentor for neophytes Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and others.
"Being the oldest is definitely different," Stokley said of his position. "You take on a new role and try to show more leadership. I've definitely gone out of my way to try and help, because I remember when I was a rookie. Any help the veterans gave me I truly appreciated."
Stokley maintains that he'll simply put his head down and go to work and not worry about how the Broncos decide to use him.
Given the loss of Brandon Marshall and his three straight seasons with 100-plus catches, that workload figures to be spread around at the receiver position anyway.
Stokley, Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal each seem to have an opportunity to be the go-to target in any given week within that new dynamic.
"It's not always a bad thing not having the quote-unquote No. 1 guy, just a bunch of guys out there scrapping and fighting and making plays who don't really need to have the ball thrown to them or care about stats," Stokley said. "That's not to say that's how (Brandon) was, but the ball's going to be thrown around. And there's catches for everybody."
Quinn is comfortable
Kyle Orton has all but wrapped up Denver's starting quarterback job. That doesn't mean there isn't drama left at the position.
Brady Quinn, acquired via trade from Cleveland in March, has been entrenched as the backup quarterback all off-season. But with first-round pick Tim Tebow pushing hard, there's no way Quinn can feel secure without a solid showing in the pre-season.
"I definitely feel like I'm grasping the offense and things are coming along," Quinn said.
At one time, Quinn's training camp was like Tebow's now — with every move documented by the media and fans. Now, Quinn has been able to settle into his job, build on his performances in off-season organized team activities and run the second-team offense.
"I was familiar with the terminology coming into it, but now, being in the offense and getting some of the install the second time around, it's starting to fit in nice." Coach Josh McDaniels hasn't publicly announced his quarterback rotation.
No matter how he fares Sunday night, Tebow figures to be the top Broncos story both locally and nationally.
"Whatever people make of Tim's performance or any other rookie, for that matter, all we've got to know is that we're going to get better from there," McDaniels said.