DENVER - His supporters, and they are legion, believe Tim Tebow can become the NFL’s greatest offensive force.
He’s wildly popular. He inspires strong emotions. He ranks, and there’s no doubt about this, as the most popular bench-sitter in pro football.
But this story has only begun. Tebow, who worked in relief of Kyle Orton, helped the Denver Broncos edge the Seattle Seahawks, 23-20, Saturday night.
He’s only 23. He has plenty of time to silence his skeptics, who appear to include Denver Broncos coach John Fox and head man John Elway.
The crucial first step for Tebow is to take a hard look at reality. He failed to unseat Orton, who never will draw favorable comparisons to Peyton Manning. Orton even struggles to defeat Brady Quinn for the backup job. Quinn never will draw favorable comparisons to Orton.
Right now, Tebow’s career at Florida doesn’t mean anything. Yes, I know he won a Heisman Trophy and two national titles and rose to the status of southern folk hero and trampled linebackers and inspired teammates and thrilled fans and …
Doesn’t matter now. The run-first quarterback who dominated college football is not going to dominate the NFL. The run-first quarterback must realize he’s going to survive in the NFL primarily with his arm, not his legs.
There’s a strong campaign to let Tebow be Tebow. This line of thinking suggests he can excel in the NFL with few modifications.
I talked with Broncos great Floyd Little a few weeks after the Broncos picked Tebow in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft.
“Don’t try to change him!” Little said, his voice rising with each word. “He doesn’t need to change! Let the guy play the way he needs to play!”
But Tebow needs to change. A Tebow transformation is required if he ever wants to start for the Broncos or any other NFL team.
His first series in the third quarter quickly revealed Tebow’s strengths and his weakness. On his first pass, Tebow easily, almost casually, avoided defensive end Raheem Brock before delivering a pinpoint pass on the run to Julius Thomas for a 20-yard gain.
The play revealed his sense, which can’t be taught, of where defenders are lurking. It revealed his elusiveness.
But he remains raw and impatient. He remains the quarterback who always yearns to run free.
Three plays later, the Broncos faced a third-and-3 at the Seahawks 43. Tebow caught a direct snap, glanced for an instant downfield and bolted from the pocket. He fumbled the ball and snuffed the drive.
This will not work. Tebow must learn, and learn quickly, he’s required to remain in the pocket, find his receivers and pass the Broncos downfield.
Yes, I realize Tebow is a brutishly tough, shockingly fast runner. When Tebow roars into the secondary, strong arming frightened cornerbacks and outrunning linebackers, he reminds me of the dearly departed Peyton Hillis, who is now terrorizing defenders for the Cleveland Browns.
But Tebow must tame his urge to bolt at first opportunity. If he doesn’t, he’ll remain a frustrated bench sitter.
Listen, I know those who support Tebow don’t suffer from blindness. He stretches your imagination. He brings a sense of possibility, of excitement, to every play. He is infinitely more entertaining than Orton, who specializes in boredom.
This is Tebow’s time in exile. He’s going to have to dig deep in practice and adjust his approach to the game.
Can he ever reach the heights expected of him by those who believe in him so much?
But with the right attitude, he could come close.