If there was any doubt about Tim Tebow's ability to drive a passing offense at the NFL level, it most likely went away when the second-year quarterback made several big-time throws against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that loaded up against the run in the wild-card win. That 29-23 upset over the Steelers was followed by a 45-10 rout in the divisional frame at the hands of the New England Patriots in which Tebow regressed as a pure passer, most obviously because New England's point total forced the Broncos to pass more often, and the Patriots' defense knew it.
Anyone who worried that Tebow's performance against the Pats would have team president John Elway and head coach John Fox looking elsewhere for a starting quarterback in the 2012 preseason need concern themselves no longer — in the Broncos' season-ending press conference on Monday, both Elway and Fox made it very clear that Tebow is their guy going forward.
"I think Tim has earned the right to be the starting quarterback going into training camp next year," Elway said. "I think that he made some good strides this year. He obviously played very well against Pittsburgh and played very well in a lot of football games."
That the commitment was not beyond training camp may raise the collective blood pressure of the Tebow faithful, but such competitions are common. Elway pinpointed not only what he saw from Tebow after he replaced Kyle Orton early in the season, but also what he expects to see in the offseason.
"The thing that we talked about is the fact that with the way the season was last year — not having the offseason — and with Timmy being named the starter, I think the sixth week of the season, it was a tough situation for him. Obviously, we've talked about the improvement that Timmy needs to make with mechanics at the quarterback position, so we're looking forward to having this offseason with him.
"There's no question — and he realizes it too — that we've got to get better in that area. We ran the ball tremendously this year, [The Broncos were No. 1] in the league in rushing, but obviously, the passing game wasn't where we wanted it to be, so those are the strides that we're going to have to make for us to be the offensive team that we want to be. That's what we're looking for this offseason, and we know what kind of mentality Timmy has. He's a great worker, and we know he'll work his tail off this offseason. We're looking forward to this offseason to be able to see him improve in that area. I think he will make those improvements."
To that end, Elway — the greatest passer in franchise history and one of the best the NFL has ever seen — has vowed to take a personal interest in that offseason tutelage.
"I'm looking forward to spending considerable time with him as well as all the quarterbacks, along with Adam Gase, the quarterbacks coach, as well as Mike McCoy, the offensive coordinator," Elway said. "I think that there are things that I can add. There are a lot of things that I didn't go directly to [Timmy] with but talked to Adam Gase quite a bit about during the season. The thing is, as a quarterback, the last thing that you want is to have too many voices talking to you. I think there's got to be one singular voice that's talking to him — or two voices. Where I can help him, and as well as I can give my experiences to him as well as Adam and Mike, I'm looking forward to being able to do that."
McCoy was the man who brilliantly welded the option offense Tebow ran under Urban Meyer at Florida with specific passing looks more attuned to an NFL sensibility. It was a necessary bridge to keep Tebow from failing and the Broncos in the playoff hunt, but now, as Fox said, the challenge to is get closer to the "pure passer" ideal.
"We're going to do what gives us the best opportunity to have success," Fox said of McCoy's adaptations. "That was no different than it will be next year. There's no doubt that [the option schemes] helped bridge that time. To step in and all of a sudden become the starting quarterback, and you're a second-year player that's got about three games under your belt, you need some time. No matter how experienced you are, the running game is a quarterback's best friend. That helped improve our running game, no doubt, and we'll see where it goes moving forward."
Elway, who went through a tumultuous near-decade as the starting quarterback with head coach Dan Reeves in Denver before finally finding career fulfillment with two Super Bowl titles at the end of his run, understands what a quarterback needs — and does not need — as a support system from a front office. Elway was under the microscope as the first overall pick in the 1983 NFL draft, especially after he forced a trade from the Colts to the Broncos, but he admitted on Monday that the scrutiny he saw was nothing compared to what Tebow went through.
"Obviously, what I went through was more locally based -- but when you look at Tim Tebow, what he went through was nationally based, or maybe even worldwide based. When you talk about people Tebowing by the Eiffel Tower, that kind of tells you. When I look at Tim and the experience that he had when he was at Florida, he was kind of involved in the media attention. So, he had some experience kind of going through that.
"When you look at the mentality of what kind of guy Tim is, he really seems to be unaffected by it. I think he puts enough pressure — any great player, to me, no matter how much pressure comes from the outside, there's more pressure coming from the inside and the expectations a player has for oneself. I think that's what Tim has. I don't know that it affected him, because I know his expectations of himself are even higher than they are on the outside."
In that regard, Tebow and his boss could be kindred spirits. That dynamic might be at the root of the Broncos willingness to place their future in the hands of a guy who's still putting it all together. Nobody better understands what it's like to be a franchise quarterback in Denver, and Elway wants to do whatever possible to see Tebow experience that same sensation. This may have been an arranged marriage at first, but it does now seem as if Elway wants to make this happen for more reasons than the certainty that he'd be run out of Denver if anyone else was taking those shotgun snaps when the Broncos open the 2012 season.
"Anytime you can get a franchise guy and a quarterback that can be your guy for 10-12 years, that's what you want as an organization," Elway said. "We're so hopeful that Tim's that guy. We know, obviously, that we have some work to do, and he knows that too, but he made great strides this year, and I think the one thing that you can't make up in the offseason in the weight room or anywhere else, is the experience of playing in football games. He got a lot of experience this year taking the snaps and getting a feel for what the regular season is going to be about.
"I think it was invaluable for our team to experience the playoffs, because when you get in the playoffs it steps up another level. It's like the preseason to the regular season, and when you get to the playoffs, that step's about the same size. I think, for a building block going forward, it was a tremendous experience for our football team to experience the playoffs because we hadn't been there for a while. A lot of guys on this football team hadn't been there, so I think when you look at the season as a whole, the experience that we gained being in the playoffs will definitely help us in the future."
From a muddled mess to a clearer picture? Perhaps. If Tebow can will it and Elway can help make it happen, the Broncos might just pull this strange experiment off.
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