INDIANAPOLIS -- Denver Broncos VP of Football Operations John Elway didn't draft Tim Tebow, but he certainly inherited the former Florida star when he came on board in the wake of the Josh McDaniels disaster. Tebow's well-documented 2011 season came at the expense of the more "traditional" quarterback paradigm, but it was hard to argue with the results, as much as things didn't look as pretty as some people might want.
Elway seemed to struggle with the Tebow idea a bit at first, in that he actually dared to opine that the young man in his charge might have a few things to work on before he could be the second coming of ... well, John Elway. But after the unlikely playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Tebow die was cast. By then, Elway had already vowed to work with Tebow in the offseason, to adjust his mechanics to the NFL game, just as the Broncos went out of their way to adjust their game plans to what Tebow could do well.
Now, it's about the future, though Elway was eager to recount the 2011 season from his podium at the scouting combine on Friday afternoon. "We're happy with his year last year," Elway said of Tebow. "To finish 9-9 and get a playoff win, which we hadn't done in several years, and for him to come in [after starting] 1-4, he really added a great spark for us and we really had some good things happen to us. I was really happy with his progress. I know Tim is going to work hard this offseason and we're hoping that he's going to be the guy for a long, long time."
That's the idea, but what's the first step? Tebow has been working out at the UCLA campus, and the new collective bargaining agreement limits the amount of time the Broncos can spend with him right now, in a developmental sense.
"Those are the rules. That's part of the CBA and we abide by those rules. I think the way it's set up now, we can officially start working with him May 1. I think [April] 16 is when everyone can come in. There is Phase One, which lasts for two weeks, and then Phase Two is when we are able to start working with him. I don't know if it's a concern. The one thing I don't have a concern with is the fact that Tim Tebow is going to do everything he can this offseason to get better. If that's out working with [UCLA Offensive Coordinator Noel] Mazzone — or whatever he is doing — I know that he is going to do everything he can to get better."
But have the Broncos had any contact with Mazzone, or anyone else forwarding the process right now ... you know, in a strictly (wink, wink) NFL-compliant sense?
"It's my understanding that we're not allowed to do that. I'm not exactly sure, but I have not had any contact with Mazzone. I think that obviously there are a lot of guys out there that know a lot about football, but no, I have not had any contact with Mazzone."
Whenever the Broncos do get Tebow back in the ranks, Job One will obviously be to see where his mechanics have developed, and start to build a more complex and variable offense around him. But Elway warned against the notion that the Broncos were now going to scrap the Tebow Magic and try to turn him into whatever a "conventional" quarterback passes for these days.
"I don't know that you look at it as becoming more conventional. I think there are things that we have to get him to do within our offense to be more successful as an offense. Obviously, we look at what we did last year and Tim's strengths are…there is no question he can run the football; he is a big guy and physical and he likes to run it…I think [offensive coordinator] Mike McCoy and the offensive staff did a tremendous job trying to play to Tim's strengths. I think we will continue to do that, but we also want to see strides in Tim and his ability to get better at throwing the football downfield from in the pocket. We just feel that's something we have to do to get better as an offense — to be able to add that threat there, it makes everything else he does that much better."
Just as Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers' coaching staff did with Cam Newton, and the Broncos did with Tebow, the challenge for coaching staffs when dealing with spread offense quarterbacks is to find the fine balance between the traditional and the new wave.
"I think if you look at the quarterbacks, along with every position, [the players are] getting more athletic. The kids are getting bigger, stronger and faster — with every position. I think the arm strength and especially if you look at what's going on in the NFL and what we're doing in the NFL, the game is getting more complicated because of the amount of things that we can do on the offensive side, as well as the things you're seeing on the defensive side. I think athletically and size-wise, maturity-wise, these kids realize when they step out of college that especially if you're high in the draft there are high expectations and a lot of pressure to perform early."
Early success will dictate it. For Tebow and the Broncos, the pressure is only beginning.