The best part of working the Denver Broncos at the Minnesota Vikings was getting to sit down and visit with Tim Tebow, Broncos coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. As they made their case for why they believe in their offensive approach, and then watching them beat the Vikings on the road 35-32, I have now bought in and see the potential for both Tebow and this style of play.
Let’s begin with the biggest criticism of Tebow, his throwing action. I did his last college game in the Sugar Bowl when he totally demolished the Cincinnati Bearcats. I critiqued the way he drops the ball down around his hip then has a big wind up to deliver the ball. In the college game, with the separation between the receivers and the defenders, the liability of the deliberate throw was not a big deal.
That same wind-up throwing action has not been successful at the NFL level. Watching him throw the ball on Sunday, I am not sure his throwing action has really changed, but he overcame that with anticipation and accuracy. I had a quarterback in Randall Cunningham, who, much like Tebow, was a dynamic runner with a long delivery. This made for entertaining games and eye-popping plays, but at the end of the day, Cunningham was a sub-60 percent passer who didn’t win a playoff game until late in his career.
I coached Randall after he had been out of the league for a year and a half, but brought him in after we lost out starting quarterback, Brad Johnson. Cunningham capped off his career with a brilliant performance, throwing 34 TDs and only 10 interceptions and completing better than 60 percent of his passes. Sure, he had a talented group around him with Randy Moss, Chris Carter and Jake Reed. He also had Robert Smith to hand the ball off to and an offensive line with three first-round draft picks.
He was able to develop an anticipation and accuracy that overcame his long delivery.
Tebow will continue to have the same throwing action, but after visiting with him and his coordinator, I am convinced that given time, they will continue to develop the same anticipation and accuracy in Tebow. It will not happen overnight, but the development of a rookie QB (and he is basically still a rookie) does take some time. You can make the case, and I did, that we should have seen more development by this time.
But keep this in mind: There were a number of things that inhibited Tebow from that development. First, was the lack of an offseason program. The growth in any player, but particularly a QB, comes in the offseason between his first and second year. Tebow did not have this time due to the lockout and the negotiation of the new CBA. Next, when John Fox and his staff took over, they had to keep the total team in mind in installing their new system rather than just developing a system that fit their unique first-round draft choice.
The system installed, obviously was a standard system used in the NFL and asked Tebow to do things that did not fit his unique skill set. It is no wonder that Tebow was not able to outperform Kyle Orton or even Brady Quinn. Though they did have a package that was tailored to run Tebow, the passing structure was not built around that ability.
Finally, the anticipation that we talk about developing for any young QB was limited by Tebow’s lack of work with the starting group of wide receivers. It is not a particularly talented group to start with. Fellow first-round pick Demaryius Thomas has potential, but he missed last year with an Achilles injury and is still getting used to the NFL game as well. Eddie Royal and second-year player Eric Decker are solid role players but neither is yet an established No. 1 receiver. Tight ends Daniel Fells and rookie Julius Thomas are on a similar level. Even with that, as Tebow becomes more familiar with them in the only way you can really learn about a receiver, on game day, his anticipation and accuracy will improve.
This is a work in progress to be sure, but I saw enough throws in their win against the Vikings to believe that the improvement will come. I know that the Vikings were 29th in the NFL in pass defense going into the game and were without a good portion of their starting secondary. In addition, there were a number of inexplicable broken coverages on the part of the Vikings that led to big plays by Tebow. However, when the opportunities presented themselves, he took advantage of them.
Yes, I would like to see them throw the ball more if for no other reason than to accelerate the growth of this unique talent, but the Broncos are in the middle of a legitimate playoff run and that is always a tighter learning curve than a QB on a team that is going nowhere and can afford to let it fly and just learn along the way with minimum consequences: aka Christian Ponder of the Vikings.
There has been, and will be much speculation about how John Fox and John Elway will have a tough decision about the future of Tebow and this offense. In addition, they have some tough games coming up against Chicago and New England that will test the progress of the Broncos. Either way, I think they have seen enough growth in Tebow and will jump in with both feet in the offseason in wrapping an offense and personnel that will augment the truly unique QB.