Tuesday, September 1, 2009

NFL Watch: Tim Tebow vs. Steve Young,
And Why Urban Is Right: Coaching Matters

What is the most important element to Tim Tebow's NFL success? His passing skills? Perhaps. His willingness to work hard? Probably. But if the lesson of Steve Young is any indication -- per yesterday's LA Times story comparing Tebow to Young -- the answer is: Coaching.

Get past the superficial comparisons (Left-handed! Scrambler! Religious!) and columnist Chris Dufresne offers terrific historical context, about Young's USFL passes "fluttering" (now THAT is a fair comparison) and running around behind a woeful LA Express O-line.

Most folks remember Steve Young dominating with the 49ers; few consider how bad he seemed in his first two NFL seasons (1985-1986), on the Buccaneers, who drafted him 1st overall in a 1984 USFL supplemental draft.

Dufresne makes the same crucial point about Young's NFL future that Urban Meyer makes about Tebow's: Young didn't become great until he played for a great coach who understood how to unleash him. Meyer (most recently in that GQ article) says the same thing about Tebow.

Meyer's money quote, from the GQ profile (bold-faced emphasis mine):
"Well, he certainly doesn't have the skill to play quarterback in some franchises. 'Cause they're not very good. He's certainly got the skill to play for the New England Patriots. Their head coach is a very, very dear friend of mine."(Indeed, Bill Belichick, who runs an offense similar to Meyer's, has said, "It's going to be very interesting to see what happens when Tebow comes into this league."...)

Meyer seems to relax into his line of thought. "I visit NFL teams every year. There's certain ones I won't visit, because I don't care. I watch 'em play. There are other ones that are at the highest level, they win Super Bowls. Man, they're doin' stuff. Those other ones, I won't walk across the street. Because there's just no creativity. They draft people that maybe are of questionable character. They draft people who aren't winners. But they run fast. So can Tim play quarterback? Sure. Just like, Can Matt Stafford [the 2009 number one draft pick, who went to the 0-16 Lions] play quarterback? Absolutely. I'm still convinced that Alex Smith can be a great quarterback. But can they play quarterback on really bad teams that haven't drafted well? No."

That is at the heart of my Tebow-to-Pats draft theory: Why Tebow could be to Bill Belichick what Young was to Bill Walsh. (The analogy even extends that, in a way, Brady is Belichick's Montana, with Tebow as the Young-next-evolution QB in Belichick's system.)

Dufresne interviews Young, who points out that the biggest difference between college and NFL QBs is pure passing skills: Timing, touch, velocity (and a willingness to work at it).

Young: "Passing in the NFL is delivering the ball at the right time in the right place. If you can't do that, you'll find your way out of the league. To me, that's the only issue. Everything else is comical to me. 'OK, what don't you see?'"

Beyond the argument that Tebow has already displayed those skills, if nothing else there is every reason to believe that Tebow will work harder than anyone to develop his physical tools to include those key NFL-necessary elements.

One of Tebow's leading characteristics is is Peyton-like compulsion to study film and work on his game. Tebow won't lack for effort and discipline to work at being a great NFL QB; to Meyer's point, what Tebow can't control is the level of coaching he will get.

If you want to see Tebow succeed in the NFL, root for him to get drafted by the Patriots. If you want to see him fail, root for him to get drafted by, say, Steve Young's old team, the 49ers.

Dufresne takes a novel approach, and his face-to-face sit-down with both Tebow (in LA for the ESPYs) and Young helps to round out the historical perspective Dufresne offers to link them together. It is a compelling combination and totally worth your time to read.

I walk away not sure that Young is a precise analogue -- I still nudge towards Allen Barra's comp of Tebow to Donovan McNabb -- but there are elements of the Tebow-Young comparison that ring so true, particularly this:

Coaching matters.

Steve Young is not a Hall of Famer -- you likely never remember him as anything but a great BYU QB who became a good lawyer -- if he stays on the Buccaneers and never makes it to San Francisco and the genius of Bill Walsh.

(h/t: With Leather, whose post asks "Will Tebow suck in the NFL?" The short answer: Depends on which coach he plays for.)

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