Tebow quietly goes about his NFL education

By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Tebowmania has taken a timeout.

For once in his life, Tim Tebow doesn’t have a legion of football freaks, fans and haters alike, critiquing his every move.

What really can one say about a man spending his Sundays on the sidelines, biding his time while learning the NFL ropes? That he looks good in his spiffy uniform maybe? That he looks buffed and ready to go whenever his number is called?

Sure, the branding of Tim Tebow continues unabated. His No. 15 jersey is still flying off racks, he’s still getting lots of face time pitching products for Jockey, EA Sports and Nike. His Facebook and Twitter pages were immediate hits just like the hazing haircut shots of him looking like a monk that went viral in August.

Now that the season’s in full throttle, though, the Tebowmaniacs who lined the practice fields during training camp to cheer him on even while he stretched his hamstrings or ran wind sprints are having to wait patiently just like the Denver Broncos’ rookie quarterback for his time to come.

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Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was downright giddy when he drafted the former Florida star in the first round six months ago but by the summer, he was preaching patience with Tebow, who was pokily morphing from combination college quarterback into a prototypical pro passer.

While Tebow, whom many consider the best college player ever, was creating the kind of buzz with Broncos fans that John Elway did back in 1983, McDaniels said that once the season started, the fans’ focus would turn to more pressing matters, and it has.

The debate in Denver is over how McDaniels gave up on Peyton Hillis, who’s a huge hit in Cleveland, and how Alphonso Smith could be a bust as a Bronco and a star in Detroit. Others are curious how the team could pull an 11th-hour contract extension offer from the table before Champ Bailey could put his signature on it.

The chatter isn’t about when “Tebow Time” starts.

While Elway touted Tebow’s talents and suggested the Broncos would find ways to get him on the field, Kyle Orton’s heady, steady play has relegated Tebow to being a bench warmer biding his time while taking, in the vernacular of NFL backups, “mental reps.”

Tebow spends his Sundays wondering “What Would Tebow Do?” as he watches Orton do his thing.

With a deep cast of receivers that has made fans quickly forget Brandon Marshall, Orton is on a record-breaking passing pace with 1,733 yards through the air already.

Tebow’s contributions?

Two 1-yard runs in the Broncos’ opener at Jacksonville, his hometown.

Nothing since.

Even the Broncos’ red-zone issues and running woes — they’re averaging a league-low 2.3 yards a carry — haven’t provided an opening for Tebow, who ran for 57 touchdowns with the Gators.

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So, what does Tebow do nowadays? He prepares as though he’ll be the one calling the plays on game day but he gets precious few snaps during the week and none on Sunday. Some weeks he’s the backup, others he’s the backup to the backup, Brady Quinn.

Instead of returning to work on Monday with a collection of game film to go over, Tebow watches what Orton did and tries to learn from the steely eyed starter who has such a stranglehold on the position that he was given a contract extension through 2011 last summer.

“I’d say definitely the last few weeks has been quieter,” Tebow told The Associated Press this week. “And for me, every week it’s knowing my role and also the whole game plan to just be ready for anything, because you never know what could happen. And also, every day constantly working on things that I need to improve on as a quarterback. So, that’s kind of my focus right now.”

Tebow spent much of the time following his selection as the 25th-overall draft pick working on his footwork and throwing mechanics that had some scouts speculating his transition to the pro game would be an extensive work in progress.

Now, his focus isn’t so much on fundamentals as it is on game plans and opponents.

When that’s over, he breaks out DVDs from last season and those from McDaniels’ time as New England’s offensive coordinator to learn more about this intricate offense he hopes to one day lead.

At Florida, Tebow had fresh game film every week to critique his progress. Now, he’s playing his own version of fantasy football in his head.

“Well, when you’re out there, you get to see what you did right or wrong and you get to come back and work on it. Now, it’s just looking and trying to play the game in your mind on the sideline,” Tebow said.

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One thing Tebow isn’t doing is lamenting his lot as a backup quarterback or pining for the bright lights.

“It’s just burying your head and just going and working and not pulling up to breathe or worry about anything,” Tebow said of his approach. “Because I think when you do that, that’s when you slow down.”

So, what’s it like toiling in relative anonymity now when he’s accustomed to being treated like a rock star since high school?

“It’s always nice to have support. Sometimes, it’s nice, too, to just have a little bit of a breather,” Tebow said. “So, I guess it’s both. To have people supporting you and cheering you is nice. It’s always good to have that support. And it feels good at times. And sometimes it’s good to just go out there and just be focused and not have to listen and just kind of go to work.”