FOX Sports Exclusive
Tebow shows he's a work in progress
The excitement was evident in Tim Tebow’s voice two days before his NFL preseason debut.
“I’m just going to enjoy it,” the ballyhooed Denver Broncos rookie quarterback told FOXSports.com in a Friday telephone interview. “I realize it’s a blessing to play on an NFL team. Playing for the Broncos is something special, and I’m only going to have a first time once.”
Not that he should be embarrassed after Denver’s 33-24 loss at Cincinnati. Tebow had his bright moments in four second-half possessions. He was 8-of-13 passing for 105 yards and ended Sunday’s game with a 7-yard touchdown scamper, surviving a two-man defensive crunch that knocked the wind out of Bengals safety Kyries Hebert.
But more than anything, the performance showed Tebow won’t be duplicating his incredible college success any time soon.
“There are a lot of things I can get better at,” Tebow said afterward. “I tried to compete and lead. We did some things pretty decent, but I’ve definitely got a long way to go.”
Like at the University of Florida, Tebow had his immediate family members in attendance to watch him play. While he was booed by most of the 51,278 fans at Paul Brown Stadium – many of whom are still bitter about UF’s Tebow-led bowl wins against Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati – there were a host of supporters wearing No. 15 Gators and Broncos jerseys.
Otherwise, this was a completely new experience. A healthy Tebow hadn’t spent so much time standing on the sideline waiting to play since his freshman year at UF (he passed time in the third quarter spinning the football on his finger like a basketball).
With a recently shaved head, Tebow looked different under the helmet. Earlier in training camp, he sported the “Friar Tuck,” courtesy of a rookie hazing haircut given to him by teammate Wesley Woodyard. And even though the base colors of his uniform are the same from UF, the new shades of orange and blue Tebow sported also were a reminder the Heisman Trophy and two national championships he won in Gainesville mean squat at the pro level.
Rookie growing pains in preseason debuts are common. Sam Bradford – the only quarterback drafted before Tebow in April – was sacked four times in his Saturday night appearance as a backup for St. Louis. Cleveland’s Colt McCoy and Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen didn’t remind anyone of Drew Brees, either.
Tebow, though, could easily have put Denver’s third-string offense on the scoreboard – provided wide receiver Matthew Willis didn’t drop a 40-yard strike at the Bengals' 20-yard line to end his first series.
With all the hype surrounding Tebow – he was even asked for autographs by two unprofessional media members during post-game interviews – anything short of a touchdown pass on his first attempt would be considered a disappointment. But his 5-yard completion to tight end Marquez Branson on a well-executed bootleg showed Tebow is quickly becoming comfortable with taking snaps from under center – an aspect of his game that was a pre-draft concern.
However, a bigger mechanical flaw from his college days soon resurfaced on mid- to long-range tosses. Tebow dropped the football to waist level on his third pass attempt before moving forward in the pocket and hitting wide-out Britt Davis for a 7-yard gain. He made the same mistake twice on the next series and almost paid dearly for it. An instant replay challenge overturned what was originally ruled a Tebow fumble that Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker returned 34 yards for a touchdown. The replay revealed Tebow’s left arm was going forward in a throwing motion when he was crushed by blitzing safety Jeromy Miles.
The sequence may explain the bloody scratches and bruises on the left side of Tebow’s hip and back. Asked how hard he was hit, Tebow said, “Not as hard as the feeling of having a fumble, that’s for sure.”
Without correction, Tebow will leave himself prone to getting stripped by oncoming pass-rushers. He knows it, too. But unlike in sterilized pre-draft workouts, Tebow has to incorporate proper form while running an offense. Tebow admits mechanics weren’t foremost on his mind when facing the Bengals.
“We definitely talk about how to hold the football,” Tebow said Friday. “We still do footwork to get your body right with each throw and different stuff like that. But right now it’s a lot more of, ‘Hey, this is where we want to go with the ball and this is the read you need to make.’”
Fortunately for Tebow and the Broncos, he should have ample time to work the kinks out. There is no need to rush him onto the field, provided Kyle Orton can stay healthy.
Orton’s outing Sunday night showed just how much progress he has made since a three-interception debacle in Denver’s 2009 preseason opener. Now with full command of Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels’ offensive system, Orton sliced through Cincinnati’s vanilla defense for two touchdowns before being replaced by Brady Quinn.
But barring use of a franchise tag in 2011 – provided such a designation exists in the new labor agreement – Orton won’t be in Denver beyond this season. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent who, in a quarterback-starved league, can cash in elsewhere with a strong year. McDaniels has basically banked his job that Tebow will be Denver’s quarterback of the future.
The best-case scenario for Tebow in 2010 would be a second-string role, with some playing time in special packages like the wildcat that can take advantage of his size and running skills. Quinn looked no better against the Bengals – 6-of-16 passing with an interception returned for a touchdown – than he did during three disappointing seasons in Cleveland. Tebow at least has upside and may quickly surpass Quinn on the depth chart.
“Some things I expected to be a little harder and some a little easier,” Tebow said of his training camp experience. “Some things I’ve picked up quicker and some things I need to pick up quicker than I have. But I’m not getting frustrated with it. I know I’m going to make mistakes. I just need to not make those same mistakes again.”
The process continues Saturday against Detroit.