So since I have a blog and like to write about topics, I suppose I now have to write about Tim Tebow, if for no other reason than to draw more people to this blog. Seriously, I do like Tebow and am grateful that a Christian person has such a visible platform in the NFL. Tebow is becoming one of the driving figures of sports talk radio, going on their Mount Rushmore with Bob Knight, Pete Rose and Brett Farve. I began writing my thoughts on Tebow, and it turned into about three thousand words, so I think I will publish them in at least three installments. The first entry are my initial thoughts on Tebow when he entered the NFL, and the perspective of Denver personnel head John Elway and head coahc Jon Fox.
Full disclosure, I never understood why NFL teams thought they had to pick Tim Tebow. Tommie Frazier, the first football hero I can remember (and one of only four or five college football players comparable to Tebow) was barely sniffed by the NFL and quickly retired. Nor did I understand why Tebow wanted so badly to play quarterback in the NFL. Sure, I understood the desire and the want-to; heck, Eric Crouch is still chasing a shot at quarterback ten years after finishing up at Nebraska. When a quarterback has been the man in high school and in the NFL, of course he automatically thinks he’ll succeed in the NFL. I just did see it. Tebow, which every analyst pointed out, didn’t have the throwing motion and ran whenever he was in trouble. I also thought that he was too big and would get sacked a lot, ALA Byron Leftwich.
As far as the intangibles that cause Josh McDaniels to pick Tebow late in the first round? I thought those would make Tebow’s fall even harder. Reading Peter King’s Sports Illustrated article on the Broncos mini-camps after Tebow was drafted, I almost started to feel sorry for him. Here he was in this football camp, with a coach teaching him how to remake his throwing motion. I felt great that he was trying, but I was afraid that Tebow would spend ten years bouncing around the NFL, the CFL, and whatever league replaced UFL, trying to play quarterback when it was painfully obvious he couldn’t, ALA Crouch. If he just switched positions, he’d probably have a really productive NFL career; but if he kept trying to play quarterback, he’d waste years of his life that he could be spending pursuing other goals.
Going into this year, I actually did think that Tebow should have played. The Broncos, with new coach Jon Fox and John Elway returning to head the personnel department, had new leadership who wanted their own quarterback. Honestly, the best thing that could have happened with the Broncos is that Tebow looked incompetent and was awful, and they got the top pick in the draft and took Andrew Luck. If Tebow played and failed, then at least Elway and Fox could go to the fans and say, “See, we gave you what you wanted. We played Tebow, and he’s terrible and can’t play quarterback. We’re moving on.” Perhaps there’s some mild dissent because of Tebow’s popularity, but if Elway finds a successful quarterback in the draft, then everyone forgets about Tebow-mania.
But Tebow is winning games! He’s turning the Broncos around! Isn’t it great!?! Actually, the worst thing that could have happened to Broncos did happen: they got a string of beatable teams around beat them all but one. Now the fans are on board, and Elway and Fox have an even bigger dilemma: Tebow setting them up for long-term failure.
Sticking with Tebow in the short-term may some good results, but it could also yield some very damaging results. Take his starts, in which Denver is 6-1 and all six wins have been close. But the one loss was a blowout loss to Detroit. One side of a fraud good team: when they do loose, it’s bad. Last year, the Falcons went 13-3 but were blown out twice on the road; the Packers went 10-6 but never lost by more than a touchdown. In the Packers shelled the Falcons in Atlanta. But the fans say, Tebow’s winning close! Yes…against bad teams.
Here’s the flip side of those close wins against 4-9 Miami: Jon Fox works all the harder. Think about it: Fox knows he has a good defense and his defense would give him a chance to win eight games a year at least the Broncos were viable at quarterback. But instead, Fox has to run a college offense suited to Tim Tebow’s strengths and hope that Tebow is consistently money in the clutch. So, Fox will have to invest more time and energy to beat the bad teams and have nothing left for when they play the good teams.
And beyond that, what happens when Denver has to play a string of good teams in a row, or happens to loose some close games?After four blowout losses, the fans will turn, likely not on Tebow, but on Fox and Elway. They’ll say that the play-calling stinks, and that Fox has to go. The player whose jersey they buy in record numbers will be the last one to go. Take it from me: with the style of football Denver is playing, it is likely to breed the same kind of angst that has been bred into Nebraska football fans. Because of Nebraska’s run-oriented offense, they often wouldn’t stand a chance if they got behind in a big game, and, after a string of large losses in the early 2000’s, Husker fans watch their team with a “nervous energy” as Steve Sipple describes it. It is as if there’s one big mistake in a game, and the whole thing falls apart because the offense is run-oriented, and can’t comeback. If Denver’s offense wins a lot of close games, but looses a lot of blowouts, the big looses could be the thing that turn the fans against Elway and Fox.
The difficulty of Elway and Fox’s decision isn’t just because of public perception: it also exists in the Broncos’ locker room. This one thing I admit I had wrong: I thought pro players wouldn’t buy into Tebow because they’d see his obvious physical limitations. But Tebow is a film room-junkie and has changed the Broncos’ attitude on the field. When I watched Denver played at Minnesota, they were third most emotional team I’d seen in football all year, after Georgia Tech and Iowa State against Oklahoma State. (By the way, I watch 10-12 college games every weekend.) It is shocking to me to see this kind of emotion from a pro team, and nothing almost ever shocks me. Clearly, Tebow’s leadership skills are overcoming his physical limitations.
But happens when Denver looses the close games or gets blown out? If they keep getting good game plans from Fox, but are limited by Tebow? Trent Dilfer talked on ESPN Radio as relates to game planning: teams who are given horrible games plans by bad coaches don’t even try, while teams that are given good game plans by smart coaches (Mike Holmgren in Dilfer’s case) always go into the game believing they have a chance. Players are not fans and are not easily fooled; if Tebow makes them work really hard to beat bad teams, which leaves them no energy for the good teams, they will know who is at fault.
As side note, Tebow’s leadership and work-ethic is clearly making a huge impact on a team that has had little success over the last five years. That in and of it itself is astounding.
So now, Elway and Fox have a dilemma: Tebow is winning, and their fans and their team is buying into him as well. After this season, if the Broncos got rid of Tebow after he turned their team completely around, it could implode their locker room, at least in the short term. And if Tebow is traded and the next quarterback who comes in doesn’t work out, the implosion will only be worse. I’m not sure what I would do in their shoes; depending on where the Broncos finish after the season, if I were Elway, I would hold a meeting with Fox and my top personnel lieutenants and say, “Listen, can we take the hit if we get rid of Tebow? And if not, what do we have to do to succeed with him?”
Really in this situation, Tim Tebow should thank Josh McDaniels and Jay Cutler for their ugly split, which is going to force the Broncos to hold onto him as long as he’s winning. But in the Broncos’ division, Tebow is winning, and now he’ll have to improve his passing in the off-season and get his teammates working alongside him if he hopes to keep his job. And really, that was what Elway and Fox intended when they started to run the Tebow-offense; but its success has become a monster they can’t control.
Tomorrow, I will share my thoughts on Denver’s offensive philosophy with Tebow, and the Broncos’ possibilities if the Broncos traded Tebow.