Commentary

Tim Tebow not ready for prime time

Originally Published: August 9, 2011
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Tim Tebow and Kyle OrtonAP Photo/Barry GutierrezKyle Orton has been named the Broncos' No. 1 quarterback. Where does Tim Tebow go from here?

The irony is not lost on the city of Denver that John Elway is judging a QB controversy between Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. This is like Heidi Klum judging a bikini contest at a fat farm.

Doesn't matter anyway. It's over. Orton won by the kind of margin Kim Jong Il wins elections. If it had been a pee wee basketball game, they'd have turned the scoreboard off.

You knew Orton won if you attended the intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at Mile High Who The Hell Ever Heard of Invesco Stadium. Orton was poised, sharp and studied. He would've been 7-for-7 if it weren't for two drops and some clumsy sideline footwork by receiver Eric Decker.

Tebow, meanwhile, looked like a man being chased by bees. He barely got off a pass (1-for-3) and was sacked three times. Nice kid, sincere as a first kiss, but he's not ready yet, might never be ready. Somebody alert the Filipino missionaries. If he doesn't improve, he might be among them sooner than we thought.

The entire locker room wants Orton. In the NFL, you have to start the guy the players think they can win behind. They see. They watch film. They know what's working.

The Heisman Trophy winner looks stiff under center. Most quarterbacks go snap-step-step-step-throw. Tebow goes snap-step-step-step-think-ponder-think-some-more-finally-decide-throw-three-feet-behind-the-receiver.

If his first read is covered, he needs a Garmin. He drops his arm as if he wants to run, then thinks better of it. He doesn't quite understand the coverages yet anyway. And when he finally does decide, he's late getting it off. He seems flustered, and it screws up his accuracy. He's much better in the shotgun, but in the NFL you need to have the threat of a run, and the shotgun gives you none.

"The Tebow Thing" is as dead as the Volkswagen Thing. Orton is No. 1 by three city blocks, as the Broncos confirmed with their depth chart Monday: (1) Orton, (2) Tebow, (3) Brady Quinn.

It's the only choice Denver could make. The entire locker room wants Orton. In the NFL, you have to start the guy the players think they can win behind. They see. They watch film. They know what's working. "If they picked Tebow now," said a source within the team, "the coaching staff would totally lose the players."

The other way you know it's over is that Orton is talking to Tebow again. He didn't talk to him all last year. He told people it was because Tebow was a "rookie," but it was more than that. Tebow, ever gracious, kept talking with reporters every day. A lot of the players thought he should've stopped, in deference to the starter, Orton, who was getting scrums one-tenth the size.

Anyway, this lockout crushed Tebow. He's such a hard worker that he would've been at Bronco headquarters every day in the offseason, learning coverages, working on his three-step drop, soaking up every word new coach John Fox uttered. But instead, he reported to camp in fantastic shape physically but still flabby technically.

"He's a great young man who is really working hard," says team president Elway, whose team will visit the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night. "But he didn't get an offseason to work on [playing from the pocket]. He didn't get much of that in college. And it's a completely different thing than the shotgun. Plus, he's only had the one season. But he's an amazing football player. I'd never give up on Tim Tebow."

Me, either. In fact, if I were playing in a streetball game where the losing team has to move permanently to a time-share in Kabul, I'd take Tebow every time.

"One of the unique things about Tim is that he has that unique ability to make something happen when the play breaks down," Elway says. "That gives him a great advantage there … but you have to win games from the pocket in this league. You can't rely on your improvising. That's one thing I learned. I was always going to make those plays outside the pocket, but that can't be your bread and butter."

Wait, what? That WAS your bread and butter!

"Well, OK, I guess we got to three Super Bowls that way, but you don't WIN Super Bowls that way. I learned that the hard way."

Anyway, none of this is as interesting to Elway as Denver's newfound pass rush. It didn't have one last year, finishing dead last in the NFL in sacks. This new one stars DE Elvis (Doom) Dumervil, who showed up at camp at 260 pounds and more cut than Michelangelo's David, and No. 2-overall choice LB Von Miller, both of whom looked unblockable in the scrimmage.

"I just feel bad for Orlando Franklin," says Elway of Denver's second-round pick, an offensive lineman from the University of Miami. "He gets to camp, and he's got to stare across the line at Miller and Dumervil every day. Not easy."

So what should we expect of a team that went 4-12 last season and finished the 2009 season with a 2-8 run, part of the Era That Dare Not Speak Its Name, when owner Pat Bowlen turned the team over to a hooded high school brat named Josh McDaniels?

What if I offered you an over-under of six wins?

"I'd be very, very disappointed if we weren't over six," Elway grumbled.

What about eight?

"Well, remember, we have the third-hardest schedule in the league. … But we're going to have a better defense this year. And when you have a good defense, the crowd noise really gets up. But you've got to make stops. Because when the crowd is screaming their heads off for 'dee-fense' and you never get any stops, they stop screaming. They kind of go, 'Why are we screaming if you never stop anybody?'"

This is where Tebow comes in.

He'll be a wonderful cheerleader.


Love the column, hate the column, got a better idea? Go here.

Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "SportsCenter" and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.


Feel like taking a detour from sane sports? Try Rick's latest book, "Sports from Hell."

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com