Tim Tebow just isn’t ready for prime time

Nobody’s questioning Tim Tebow’s character or work ethic, just

his readiness.

The Denver Broncos have concluded he’s not set to start in the

NFL, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to cut ties with him.

The latest twist in Denver’s summer soap opera is rampant

speculation that the Broncos will try to trade or even waive the

second-year pro from Florida whose popularity still trumps his

polish.

That makes little football or financial sense.

He’s the only quarterback on the roster who’s under contract

after this season. Earlier this month he received a $6.275 million

bonus and his salaries through 2014 are very palatable.

So, the Broncos can continue to have patience and see if this

project that former coach Josh McDaniels thrust upon them might

eventually pan out.

Some of Tebow’s supporters are starting to see the Broncos as

the bad guys in all this.

Because the Broncos don’t share his rabid fans’ unbridled

enthusiasm and blind faith in the quarterback’s ability to win

right away, the feeling among his staunchest supporters is that the

Broncos must have a problem with Tebow’s personality, not his

play.

Why else would they refuse to anoint Tebow, one of the most

accomplished and beloved players in the history of college

football, as the starter over Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, two

quarterbacks with losing career records who don’t share Tebow’s

winning pedigree?

Because Orton is better, by any meaningful measure, right

now.

And it looks like Quinn is, too.

The standard response to criticism of Tebow’s game – or praise

of Orton’s or Quinn’s – is to declare that Tebow is a hard worker

and a great guy and those attributes should trump all this talk

about messy mechanics and flawed footwork.

Tebow has had a bad training camp.

He never came close to challenging Orton for the starting job

and appears to have even slipped behind Quinn on the depth chart

although he has two preseason games left to win the backup job.

Even Adam Weber, an undrafted rookie from Minnesota, shows more

smoothness in his throws sometimes than the former national

champion and Heisman Trophy winner; like Wednesday, when he dropped

a 40-yard touchdown toss into the arms of D’Andre Goodwin in double

coverage during full-team drills.

There was even a Yahoo Sports report this week suggesting ”some

people in the organization believe that Tim Tebow is the

fourth-best quarterback on the roster.”

”Maybe they heard it from the cook, I’m not sure,” coach John

Fox cracked after practice Wednesday. ”We hold Tim in high regard.

I think he’s got a bright future in this game. He’s playing maybe

the hardest position I know in the NFL there is to play, and maybe

in all of sport. He’s progressing fine.”

Tebow only had two passes in the second preseason game last

week.

”He’ll get more opportunities in games as we go,” Fox said.

”… Everybody in this building has high regard for Tim Tebow, and

he’s doing just fine. There’s no update on where his ranking is at

this point by any official.”

”Like I said, it could have been the chef.”

At any rate, Tebow’s the most likely of all the quarterbacks to

be dining at Dove Valley next year because he’s the only one of the

bunch who’s under contract after this season.

Orton is due $8.82 million this year, then he’ll be a free

agent, as will Quinn, who’ll make $700,000 in 2011, the final

season of a five-year rookie deal he signed in Cleveland.

Weber will likely make practice squad money, and Tebow is signed

through 2014.

Moreover, when the new collective bargaining agreement went into

effect Aug. 4, more than $6 million in bonus money went into

Tebow’s bank account.

With a salary this season of $1.618 million, you might call him

an $8 million third-string quarterback. But Tebow’s base salaries

for the next few seasons are very palatable – $1.942 million in

2012, $2.266 million in 2013 and $2.590 million in 2014.

The Broncos are willing to give this experiment some time.

When John Elway was hired as the Broncos’ front office football

chief in January, he speculated that Tebow would be hurt more than

anyone on the roster by a long lockout, and he was right.

Tebow was buff when he showed up at training camp expecting to

be the starter, but he hadn’t spent the offseason working with the

coaching staff. So, when the Miami Dolphins made no offer for

Orton, Tebow was ill-prepared to beat him out for the starting job

in Denver.

His mechanics and motion still need work, he needs to learn more

patience in the pocket and must start to see the middle of the

field better. He has to progress through his reads and break his

habit of tucking the ball and taking off. Repeating his release

point on passes and keeping his palms together when the ball is

snapped are also on his to-do list.

With Tebow’s transition from combination college quarterback to

pocket passer in the pros hitting some bumps, his legion of fans

have taken to talk radio and Twitter to proclaim that the Broncos

should just hand him the job already and then watch him pile up the

wins. Or trade him.

In the NFL, jobs are earned, not earmarked. Fox would lose his

locker room if he handed a starting job to anyone who wasn’t

performing the best at his position.

Remember, even McDaniels, his biggest supporter in the NFL,

didn’t turn to Tebow when his own job was on the line late last

year.

It wasn’t until Orton got hurt and McDaniels got fired that

Tebow got his chance.

He ran with it, just not far enough to keep it.

If it were up to the fans decked out in No. 15 jerseys, Orton

would be the one patrolling the sidelines on Sundays like he did

for the final three games last year, when Tebow went 1-2 with five

TD passes and six TD runs.

”Thank God the people don’t make the decisions,” Orton

proclaimed.

Fox does, and when he named Orton his starter this week, he

declined to name a No. 2.

And he doesn’t have to anymore, either, because all three

quarterbacks can be active on game days and can play. So, maybe

Quinn will be No. 2 but Tebow will make more cameos.

”I believe I can help the team in a lot of different ways,”

Tebow said. ”So, whatever they ask me to do, they’ll have my whole

heart.”

Right now what they’re asking him to do is keep working hard to

iron out the kinks.

Connect with AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton at

http://twitter.com/arniestapleton