I have avoided talking about Tim Tebow on this column or any other because I don’t really fall into one of the partisan camps on the kid. There seems to be about 40% of the country that thinks he is an awful, horrible excuse for a quarterback who should have been moved to H-back or TE the moment he left college. These people also think that he would make a poor H-back at that. There is another 40% that thinks he is a brilliant quarterback who, if given the opportunity, could become one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. They also want him to baptize their child or future child, just in case. I have always found myself in a quiet 20%. I think he has the potential to be a solid (that is, average) quarterback by the statistical measures we use to track their performance. He will never be considered among the upper echelon, but that shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of, considering the 4th rounders many people would have picked over Tebow won’t be starting either. What the controversy highlights however is the changing definition of what makes a quarterback “good.”
It used to be that it was easy to determine what was a good quarterback. He threw a lot of touchdowns, few picks, and had a high completion percentage. Add in a nice deep ball and you have it. The people who can’t stand Tebow look at his flawed mechanics, low completion percentage and wobbly passes that make him look like he should be back in high school learning how to throw a pass. They see him running around like a bruising running back rather than taking a neat slide after a three yard gain. Simply put, he doesn’t look like that prototypical quarterback and he doesn’t match what we envision in our minds to be a true quarterback.
But there is a funny thing about this sport. Positions change over time, and it could be that there is room for more than one type of quarterback. A quarterback’s job is to lead the offense and win games. If he can keep the defense honest enough with his arm and find ways to move the football, then what exactly is the problem? This sport has shown us that there are hundreds of different ways to move the football- from the triple option at Georgia Tech to the spread-in-shred at Oregon to wide open passing spreads at Oklahoma State. Traditionalists have always said that these offenses cannot work in the NFL because the defenses were faster and smarter. Well, so are the offenses. Football has shown us that doing something different is half the battle; giving the defense something they aren’t accustomed to. The Broncos are doing that, and no matter how much they want Tebow to fail they still want to win games.
I have never seen as much open disrespect between the head coach and management and a quarterback who has never done anything to them. Tebow has never spoken out of turn or called out the management who never thought he fit the mold, and yet John Fox tells the press that “If he were trying to run a regular offense, he’d be screwed.” That might be true, though in this world of multivariate offenses and creative play-calling, what is to say what is “regular” anymore? If it’s what John Fox was trying to do for the last few years in Carolina, I will take irregular in a heartbeat. Even so, as a coach you do not openly ridicule your player for all the things he can’t do, you support him for what he can and coach accordingly. John Fox should know that by now, considering how many times he came to bat for Jake Delhomme when he was doing just as badly and far worse than Tebow is now.
Tebow has a long way to go to become a consistent player, and despite his record he hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard. But regardless of his performance it is time for the NFL’s old school to figure out what the college game has started (unless you are an announcer or commentator) to realize: a player is good if he helps you win games. Denard Robinson is not a great passer by any means, but he can be a great quarterback by being a great player who is at quarterback. Tevin Washington excels at the triple option, but probably would not be able to make it in an I-formation, 7-step drop system. But if they score points and win games, why should it matter what offense they run or what offense they are good at? Tim Tebow is not a great passer either, but if he can be a great player at quarterback, what else do you need? This isn’t a beauty contest where the player who stands at 6’3”, 210 lbs and is a white boy with slicked back hair, a million-dollar smile and can’t run worth a lick is automatically going to be more successful. It is about finding the way each player is best suited to succeed, and tailoring the game to them.
Despite all the whining to the contrary, the pro game is not fundamentally unique- it is only different because NFL coaches are too cautious to make the kind of innovative adaptations that they make at the college level, and players need to be less specialized in order to fit in with different teams over the course of their careers. I think much of the needless anger towards Tebow is rooted in that false notion of the pro game being special- he doesn’t fit in with our idea of NFL football and NFL quarterbacks; he isn’t what we think we grew up with. It’s time to get over it and look at what is successful rather than that looks nice. If there is room for different types of starting running backs, receivers, linemen, and other positions, there should be room for different types of quarterbacks too.