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The Denver Broncos have met Tim Tebow halfway. They've declared him their incoming starter for 2012.
The second half is up to Tebow. Now he has to become the quarterback the Broncos need.
|This offseason should include plenty of study time for Tim Tebow.|
Tebow has proven he can win in the NFL. But he hasn't proven that he can do it consistently or in a way that makes his coaches feel comfortable.
It helps that Tebow has a work ethic that is already legendary. This, though, isn't about whether he works hard, but whether he understands that the onus is on him now to become more accurate, to learn to control the game from the pocket and to rely less on schoolyard instincts and more on his knowledge of defenses.
This is a crucial offseason for Tebow. It will determine his NFL future. He has the opportunity to make himself into an unquestioned franchise quarterback. Or, if he botches it, a career backup.
As of now, the Broncos don't have a whole lot of options besides Tebow. The only other quarterback on the roster is Adam Weber, a rookie this past season from Minnesota who signed a futures contract as a practice-squad player. He's never seen NFL action.
Make no mistake: Tebow definitely earned the right to be Denver's starter next fall. He turned a listless 1-4 team into a division winner. He beat last year's Super Bowl runners-up, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the playoffs -- and did it primarily with his arm. It doesn't matter that the Steelers were banged up, that the Broncos backed into the playoffs or that the AFC West was arguably the weakest division in the NFL. Those are sufficient achievements for a young quarterback with just 14 starts on his résumé.
But Tebow would be foolish to believe that where he's concerned, John Elway is pushing all of the chips to the center of the table. Elway still seems far from convinced that Tebow is the heir to the throne he owned during his 15 seasons in Denver.
"Now, I think that anybody that comes in, a free agent, no matter what position, is going to believe they're going to come in and have a chance to compete," Elway said on Monday. "That's the thing. Anybody that comes in here, when we start training camp, is going to be competing for jobs. Obviously, with Tim's reputation, if the guy is afraid to come in here and compete for that job, then maybe it's not the right guy."
Before he took over as the starter, Tebow's supporters cried that he wasn't being given a fair chance. But based on what the Denver coaches saw during training camp, Tebow had not earned the opportunity to compete for the starting job. In fact, he was third-string.
It's widely known that Tebow isn't a good practice player, nor did he have any time to work with the Broncos' coaching staff last summer. But the NFL lockout can't be used as an excuse; it didn't exactly hinder rookies Andy Dalton or Cam Newton, who broke Peyton Manning's rookie passing record. Dalton and Newton clearly are more talented passers than Tebow is; but if Tebow wants the Broncos to have more faith in him, he has stop giving them reasons to doubt him.
That means no more excuses. Simply expecting his coaches to accept that he isn't a good practice player, that he often isn't going to be accurate when he throws into tight coverages or that he has a bad habit of playing poorly for the first three quarters of a game, isn't fair to the Broncos.
My colleague and "First Take" debate partner Skip Bayless is fond of saying that Tebow will never be a traditional pocket passer or a perennial Pro Bowl player, but he has value as a gamer, a baller blah, blah, blah. (Sorry, Skip.) And I agree that Tebow doesn't have to be a Pro Bowler. I don't expect him to be the next Drew Brees.
But asking him to be a pocket passer isn't asking for too much.
It's just asking him to do his job.
"He's going to have to overhaul everything," says quarterbacks guru George Whitfield, who tutored Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Terrelle Pryor as they transitioned into the NFL. "He's going to have to go all the way back to the beginning. His throwing motion is a direct relation to what's happening below the waist. You can't put a giant machine gun on a camera tripod. He's going to have to work on the passing and the mechanics. Out of those nine or 10 completions against Pittsburgh, all but two of them were vertical throws. Pretty much everybody can throw it vertical. The challenge is throwing into windows."
ESPN filmed Tebow's preparation for the 2010 NFL draft. He was impressively driven and physically did things that quarterbacks shouldn't be able to do. He chopped wood, pushed a sport-utility vehicle up a steep hill and easily convinced anyone watching that he could be a strongman competitor if this quarterback thing doesn't work out.
|As far as John Elway is concerned, Tim Tebow is the starter. Think that means he won't be looking for other options?|
Except being able to bench press a Ford Explorer doesn't exactly help Tebow become a better pocket quarterback.
I'm not saying his immense strength and running ability aren't valuable commodities, or that he doesn't spend time working on the things that will make him an effective passer.
But most of the mobile quarterbacks who have come through the NFL have eventually had to conform to being a traditional passer in some form or another. Michael Vick is still a dangerous scrambler, but his growth as a pocket passer is what made the Philadelphia Eagles put the franchise in his hands, even though he was inconsistent this season.
If the Broncos are willing to continue to use the read-option in 2012 to capitalize on what Tebow does well, then it's incumbent upon him to use this offseason to become more of what they expect. Elway said he doesn't anticipate Tebow's off-the-field commitments -- which are sure to increase substantially after this season -- will interfere with his development, but Tebow owes it to the Broncos to minimize his non-football obligations so he can be better prepared.
He must make the leap from being purely an instinctual player to being a precise operator. It's the only way he can guarantee a long-term future in the NFL, either in Denver or somewhere else.
"It's a learned skill set," Whitfield said. "He can go train at it and get it."
One of Tebow's most charismatic personality traits is his determination. He believes he can do anything. And in pressure situations, he's often proven that he can.
After the Broncos' blowout loss to the Patriots this past Saturday night, Tebow spoke passionately about how he planned to improve in the offseason.
But the key for him isn't to work on the things he wants to do. He has to work on the things that are required.
Jemele Hill can be reached at email@example.com.
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