After all the hype, the back-and-forth about whether Tim Tebow(notes) could play quarterback at the professional level, the constant barrage of "leader/winner" talk and how useful that may or may not be to his future, and the insistence by some that Tebow's flawed throwing style has been corrected once and for all, we finally got to see what the NFL version of Tebow would look like when the Denver Broncos took the field Sunday evening at Paul Brown Stadium to meet the Cincinnati Bengals. It took a while to see No. 15 out there, but Tebow's performance was certainly interesting to observe.
He began his game under center on first-and-10 from the Denver 35-yard line with 4:39 left in the third quarter. The first play shook the rust off -- from under center, Tebow rolled left and hit tight end Marquez Branson(notes) for 5 yards on a quick pass. After a handoff to running back Bruce Hall(notes), Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz (in the Bengals TV booth) dismissed all criticisms of the famed throwing motion, comparing Tebow to Philip Rivers(notes). I'll get back to that comparison later, but I thought it was one of the more startlingly odd things I've heard from a football commentator in a long time.
From a mechanical perspective, the constant offseason contention that Tebow had altered and truncated his wind-up throwing motion turned out to be a canard. That's understandable; those so invested in Tebow's positive progress for whatever reason put too much stock in throwing sessions while Tebow was in shorts and unpressured. As Mike Tyson once said, "Everybody has a plan until they get hit." And when Tebow was hit, he reverted pretty severely. I watched his mechanics more than the actual results; I have little interest in what any quarterback does against a third-string preseason defense.
Under center, Tebow dropped back with decent mechanics, though he looked somewhat unsure at times (to be expected). The throwing motion is still far too hitchy to make a consistent difference -- for every great throw (like the one on third-and-5 downfield to Matt Willis(notes) that was flat-out dropped on that first drive), there was an attempt by Tebow to throw across his body that turned into a debacle because of the extra motion. He benefitted from the "Tuck Rule" in a strip sack by Bengals safety Jeromy Miles(notes), but that's another issue he's going to have to correct -- the sheer time it takes him to wind up and get the ball out puts him in a disadvantageous position at a level where every millisecond in the pocket counts. The best play I saw from Tebow, and the one that best indicates his benefit to the team in the short term, was the one that ended the game -- his 7-yard touchdown run up the middle proved the wisdom the Broncos would show by using Tebow in goal-line option packages.
I have written before that Tebow could be one of the best red-zone threats in the game. Given Denver's rushing performance close to the goal line last season, that might be where Tebow validates his draft position early on. But as a quarterback? He's got a looooong way to go. The comment about Tebow being similar to Rivers in throwing motion struck me particularly funny. Rivers has a odd motion, but I would liken his current mechanics to the golf swing of Jim Furyk, who has won tournaments despite a swing that looks like an "octopus falling from a tree" (as one writer once put it). Unconventional, but effective. Rivers is one of the best deep throwers in the NFL, he can make plays consistently under different types of pressure, and the speed of pro football is no mystery to him.
Right now, I'd liken Tebow's motion more to the swing of Charles Barkley -- he's going to have to work around his own flawed mechanics to get the game right. That's Tebow's fate in the short term. While I have no doubt whatsoever that Tebow will do everything possible to sharpen those mechanics, I think we're looking at a multi-year project here.
Tebow's other fate in the short term is that anything he does wrong will be relentlessly excused by a fawning, cloying media. This, of course, will cause other media members to overcompensate by ripping the kid to shreds. Neither stance is fair, but I think Tebow will find that he's a more polarizing player at the NFL level -- more is expected here.
And if you don't believe that the media will find objectivity tough in his case, check out this tidbit from Alex Marvez of FOX Sports:
2 media members asked tebow for autographs in locker room. No, I wasn't one of them. Yes, he signed.
Yikes. So, if you want the real scoop on Tebow, you're going to have to get past agendas on both sides. The early results as I see them are that he's far more valuable in a situational role right now. His NFL future has a lot of work involved.