Tim Tebow displayed the technique that draws Merrill Hoge’s criticism in the Denver Broncos’ first practice. (RICK WILKING / REUTERS)

The Broncos worked feverishly to trade quarterback Kyle Orton and anoint Tim Tebow the starter ... only to begin practice with Orton on the team and discover that he’s, um, better than Tebow. That prompted ESPN’s Merrill Hoge to do what he does, analyze, and Tebow to respond ... and — out of left field — LeBron James to ride to Tebow’s defense.

Hoge’s tweets:

“Orton or tebow? QB play is not just about who works hard gives rare rare college speeches or who is a good guy!! Because orton works hard and is a good guy as well.

“It's about who can play!! I just watched Tebow throw 5 out routes to a wide open WR! He was 1 for 5! 2 went in Dirt 2 in the stands!

“That throwing motion he changed? U can't change who u r! Just watched 2 throws and he throws like he did in college!!

“College credentials do not transfer to NFL raw raw speeches do not work! You must poses a skill set to play! Tebow struggle with accuracy!”

Tebow fired back:

Hey Merril...... ‘ppreciate thatless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet ReplyTim Tebow

Then James jumped in to defend Tebow, just like Kobe Bryant defended James earlier this week: “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” [Not sure why James’ tweet broke off there. Maybe he needed a snack.]

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.less than a minute ago via UberSocial for BlackBerry Favorite Retweet ReplyLeBron James

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!!less than a minute ago via UberSocial for BlackBerry Favorite Retweet ReplyLeBron James

Hoge elaborated on “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” saying Tebow “had no business” being drafted as a quarterback and criticizing his throwing motion. “Just that alone drove Byron Leftwich to a backup position,” Hoge said.  “Tim has that issue.  It’s never going to change.”

Nope. Only question is: Who will weigh in next on the issue?