Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Broncos Tebow: Rookie Season Preview

Tim Tebow's pro career technically (or perhaps not-so-technically) began the minute his all-time-great college career ended triumphantly in the Sugar Bowl.

Then came the pre-draft training. ("Tebow 2.0")
Then the Draft itself. (Defying the doubters.)
Then rookie camp. (Hysteria!)
Then training camp. (Haircuts!)
Then exhibition season. (TDs! INTs! Injuries!)

Tim Tebow has yet to play a down in a regular-season (read: real) NFL game. He has the league's No. 1-selling jersey. He is a Top 3 product pitch-man. He is one of the most popular players -- certainly the most intrigue-inducing player -- in the league.

And that is all before this Sunday, when Tebow will make his NFL debut -- either symbolically or ironically, depending on your point of view -- in Jacksonville.

It isn't even clear Tebow will play a down -- although it is an educated guess to say that Josh McDaniels knows it is in everyone's best interests to find a way to get Tebow the ball at least once.

After all, Tebow only touched the ball once in his first-ever game at Florida, five years ago last week. It was a QB keeper inside the 5-yard-line -- a touchdown. It is easy to envision a scenario like that in Jacksonville on Sunday.

That play -- and the way Urban Meyer used Tebow throughout his freshman year (his "rookie" year) in college -- is a pretty good template for how McDaniels and the Broncos might deploy Tebow in his rookie season in the NFL. The key word is: Selectively.

It Tebow ready to be a starting QB in the NFL? I'm not sure any rookies are ever ready to be starting QBs in the NFL in Week 1. Not Peyton Manning. Not Tom Brady. Not Aaron Rodgers. Not Troy Aikman. Certainly not Sam Bradford, who will start anyway.

The point is that Tebow doesn't have to be a starting QB in the NFL -- at least not yet (and at least in the absence of the kind of random accident, like an injury, that thrusts any NFL backup into a starting role).

But that doesn't mean that Tebow doesn't have a role to play in his rookie year. Thinking back to his freshman year at Florida, a valuable role.

There are short-yardage situations where critical first-downs need to be gained, to extend drives or manage the clock. There are red-zone or goal-line situations where touchdowns need to be scored. Tebow doesn't have to have Manning's release or Brady's accuracy or Rodgers' zip.

He just needs to be... Tebow.

He needs to be good enough to make the throw or good enough to muscle a run -- or, perhaps, potentially good enough at either that a clever coach can create enough defensive uncertainty that the play will be a success, no matter what the call.

That has always been Tebow's appeal -- at least for his rookie year. That he can allow for an unorthodox coach to create an unorthodox play with an unorthodox result:

*"4th-and-short" to "1st-and-10."

*Removing the "conventional" starting QB at the goal-line for his backup, who is a goal-line specialist.

*Forcing the defense to account for the quarterback as a ball-carrier -- creating confusion somewhere, just long enough to pull off a positive, even game-impacting play.

In an ideal world, that is Tebow's role this season: Contributing in a way that impacts the team's chances of winning games in the short term, while being given training and coaching in how to play the position full-time in the long-term.

Tebow fans have seen this before: The fall of 2006. It worked -- at least well enough for Tebow's team to win a national championship. Some might argue he even wasn't used enough.

But the fact is that even a little Tebow can go a long way, if he is deployed innovatively enough.

That has to be the extent of fan and expert expectations for Tebow this season. And that feels like both a challenge in and of itself -- and something he is more than capable of matching.

-- D.S.

Programming note: I will not be blogging tomorrow or Friday for the Jewish holidays. Saturday I will be at The Swamp for the Florida-South Florida game, but will certainly update if any news related to Tebow's status in Sunday's season-opener comes up. As I mentioned before, I will be in Jacksonville on Sunday -- just long enough to climb on an airplane about an hour before the Broncos and Jaguars kick off and probably landing and finally settled at home in a position to post here well after the game is over. But I will certainly have plenty to say in the wake of the game's results by Monday morning.

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