ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – There is something hypnotic about Tim Tebow(notes) that makes otherwise sensible football people grow weak. He stands poised, shaking hands with palms that could break granite. He smiles, never using first names. It's always "Mister" and "Ma'am." It makes them want to believe.
And it lulls them into overlooking the barriers set by those who have evaluated his college game tapes; those who say his style of throwing the ball is too cumbersome to translate to the professional game and find his headfirst plunges into the chests of tacklers as a great way to get hurt rather than a heroic display of manhood.
But the men dazzled by Tebow see what they want – a player so determined to win that he will take a concussion to get a first down – they forget such recklessness has a price.
[Photos: See the Broncos' Tim Tebow in action.]
Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels is smitten by Tebow. In April Denver gave up second-, third- and fourth-round picks in this year's NFL draft to move up into the first round to take him. In doing this, McDaniels essentially tied his entire Broncos legacy to the whim that Tebow, regardless of his football flaws, would find ways to win.
Then in his first exhibition game Sunday night, Tebow did the very thing Tebow did all those wonderful Saturdays at the University of Florida. He barreled into the end zone on the game's final, useless play, knocking flat two Cincinnati Bengals – one of whom rolled on the ground for several seconds. It was the kind of move those football men adore.
A man's play.
Only it appears Tebow may have gotten hurt on the play, injuring his side or lower ribs – it's hard to tell. On Tuesday, the first day of practices after the game, he threw passes but did not run sprints. On Wednesday he didn't last past the conditioning drills, clutching his side and eventually leaving the field. On Thursday he never came out for practice.
It's believed the injury is not severe, though the organization is saying very little. Still, even a mild injury to Tebow is big news. His history of brushing aside pain is legendary. In high school he played a game on a broken leg. At Florida he practiced a day after breaking his hand in the Florida State game. He even played, unwisely, two weeks after suffering a significant concussion. He does not miss practice.
And so a month into his NFL career, before a real game has been played, the worst fears about Tebow have been realized. The things that made him great at Florida won't work in the NFL. Professional football players aren't as easy to run over as those in college. They're too big. Too strong. Like Vince Young(notes), Michael Vick(notes) and Steve McNair(notes) learned before, quarterbacks who rely too much on running will get beaten up.
On Thursday McDaniels was asked about this. The coach smiled.
"He wasn't in position the other night to do anything other than what he did," McDaniels said. "Had he not tried to get it in [the end zone] on the last play of the game I'm sure that would have been a bigger story."
Later he added: "I think what he did the other night I hope all our guys would have done – no matter who it was."
When someone suggested that perhaps Tebow will be the target of defensive players looking to injure him, McDaniels shook his head.
"They should probably be careful if they do that," he said. "I think the other guy got knocked out. You know [Tebow's] a big guy. He's 245 pounds. He can take care of himself."
But there have already been a ton of questions about Tebow and his game, enough concerns in some observers' minds to think he'll never be much of an NFL quarterback. While he worked hard in the spring to correct the hitch in his delivery, he reverted to the old habit in the preseason game against Cincinnati. He seemed to be thinking too much instead of throwing and the Bengals defenders seized upon his hesitation, hitting him several times. And then on his one heroic, old college play (with the Broncos trailing by 16 points at the time), the very thing that's supposed to make him a "winner" in the NFL has put his second exhibition game in doubt.
And now what? Does he alter his style? Can he? Can Tim Tebow really become someone other than who he has been for most of his life up to the NFL? The short answer is probably not. Nor does it seem that McDaniels wants to change his quarterback too much. There is something about a player unafraid of anything that coaches crave.
Before the injury there was a sense around the Broncos that McDaniels was close to moving Tebow from the third string to second, passing Brady Quinn(notes). Then he would install plays similar to the Wildcat for his prodigy to run. McDaniels would not confirm this when asked about it earlier in the week, but the smirk on his lips was an answer enough.
Maybe this injury is an anomaly. Perhaps Tebow comes back in a day and never gets hurt again.
But until that happens he remains the college star whose game won't work in the NFL.
- Tim Tebow
- Josh McDaniels