In the 35 years that I have covered the National Football League, I cannot think of a single story that resembled what is transpiring in Denver with Tim Tebow and the Broncos' quarterback situation. Certainly, position battles happen every day on every team, and when fans get involved, there are often wildly varied opinions as to who's the best man for the job. But football people are usually pretty consistent, and it is almost impossible to find a solid evaluator who ranks Tebow any higher than third among the Broncos' quarterbacks today.
Yet, when Denver returns from its bye in Week Seven of the 2011 season, Tebow will be the starter, and you just can't help but ask yourself why.
I am not a Tebow hater by any stretch. I think the kid is one of the more impressive athletes to enter the NFL in a long time. Although right now he looks much more like a running back, tight end or safety than a quarterback, I am not anywhere near ready to say he won't ever be a good QB. The problem is that he is nowhere near ready to run an NFL passing game right now, and improving his mechanics, footwork and delivery are things that have to be fixed in practice, not in games.
When you take a young quarterback and throw him out there in NFL games to learn, it's because you believe he already has the tools and instincts to throw the ball successfully in the NFL, and all that's left is to learn to read defenses and know how to beat them. I don't have any idea what Tebow's instincts are like when it comes to reading defenses, but while he has the athletic ability to play at the highest level, he clearly does not yet have the tools in terms of throwing mechanics, footwork and ability to play under center in the NFL today.
So let's get to the real point here. Yes, his personal beliefs and political leanings are a little more out front and public than I would like from any professional athlete, and, yes, they are about 180 degrees from mine. But so what? They are his beliefs, this is America, and I don't see how that should have any impact whatsoever on whether or not he can or should be the starting quarterback of the Broncos. If he were running for office, I doubt I'd consider voting for him. But he's not, and I haven't heard a single negative thing about the kid from anyone close to him. He's the kind of kid everyone should want to see succeed.
The problem is that his tremendous following, which has created so much pressure on his coaches and teammates to let him play, is obviously far more impressed with who he is as a person rather than what he is right now as a quarterback. That is obviously not how you run a football team. It's not fair to his coaches or teammates, and more importantly, it's not fair to him.
Kyle Orton really has nothing to complain about. He has had 34 games as the Broncos' QB to take the job and own it. Although he has been very competitive — his 49-28 TD-interception ratio is actually pretty good — he hasn't been able to put a stranglehold on the job and prove "I'm the guy." In fact, his play seems to have backslid a little bit this season. He's also far from the biggest problem on the Broncos right now and probably isn't even in the top five, but he has made himself replaceable.
However, what about Brady Quinn? Quinn clearly outplayed Tebow in training camp to claim the No. 2 job, he was actually a better QB prospect coming out of college and he has never really been given a fair shot to prove himself, either during his three years in Cleveland or since he arrived in Denver. Clearly, Tebow has now leapfrogged over Quinn not because of anything he's done on the field, but because of who he is off the field, the legion of fans who love him for it and the pressure they've created to play him well before he's ready.
I just can't help but wonder why those folks don't understand they're doing Tebow just as much of an injustice with their passion as they are doing to his team and his teammates.