Neither Tim Tebow nor Alex Smith possesses elite passing mechanics and both were selected in the first round despite operating non-traditional, spread-option college offenses. Where they are most alike is in their development under the tutelage of the always-demanding, verbally berating Urban Meyer, who coached his players extremely hard, continually pushed them far beyond their limits and taught them what it meant to truly lead, hardening their resolve like a butcher would tenderize a steak with a mallet.
Intelligence, competitiveness and work ethic — they are all supremely important in the world of scouting, but when it comes to the most demanding position in football, there might not be a trait more important than toughness — mental and physical, a trait that has defined the championship teams of Meyer at every stop he has been and has been ingrained in the two gritty quarterbacks.
At a time when nearly every other quarterback in the AFC West and NFC West has been shelved or battled through injury, it has been Tebow and Smith who have stayed healthy, withstood constant scrutiny and led their teams to winning records with poise and confidence. Tebow did it again with a come-from-behind 16-13 overtime victory over San Diego.
When Tebow entered the University of Florida as a freshman behind Chris Leak, he sparked the offense in red-zone situations, throwing jump-passes and barreling into piles to cross the goal line. He looked nothing like a passer then, and his throwing mechanics still leave much to be desired in the pros. However, he has taken great strides since his earliest days and continues to refine his skills as a passer.
On 3rd-and-11 late in the fourth quarter in a hostile road environment trailing by three points, he stood in the pocket, patiently waited five seconds for his receivers to uncover and threw a 39-yard touch pass to Eric Decker to keep the Broncos alive. Tebow followed that up with another 23-yard deep fade to Dante Rosario outside the numbers — a craft at which he excelled at Florida — and pushed the game into overtime, where he managed to squeak out his fifth win in six games in classic John Fox style.
Jake Delhomme's mechanics were so ugly exiting college that he was not drafted, but he shared a similar emotional leadership presence and toughness as Tebow. By fielding a strong defense like the one Fox has quickly repaired in Denver — a task neither offensive-minded Mike Shanahan nor Josh McDaniels were able to do in recent years — the Broncos have found a formula for success.
John Elway need not endorse Tebow publicly or believe in him as the franchise's future. He can even choose to replace him with a first-round pick in next year's draft — a possibility even if Tebow can continue his winning ways and lead the Broncos into the playoffs. No sub-50-percent passer has won a Super Bowl, and Tebow still has a long ways to go as a passer. But it doesn't matter who the Broncos bring in, they will be hard-pressed to find a player who is tougher and more resilient, and it has served Fox very well since he put the team in Tebow's hands.
• With Ray Lewis out against San Francisco in the Harbaugh Bowl, Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs really stepped up in his absence and was as dominant collapsing the corner and leveraging the edge as any pass rusher in football. He got a big assist from defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who continually overloaded the right side of the line, where fill-in ORG Chilo Rachal (replacing the injured Adam Snyder) and very young ORT Anthony Davis struggled mightily sorting out protection. Rachal and Davis were a big reason why the Niners allowed a season-high nine sacks.
• Since being cut in the preseason for being overweight and out of shape, Pittsburgh OLT Max Starks has awakened, dropping considerable weight and protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side very well. In prime-time matchups against two of the league's top sack artists — Suggs and Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali — Starks very capably handled the corner.
• CB Chris Owens stepped up in replacing the injured Brent Grimes against Minnesota. The hustle and burst he showed tracking down Percy Harvin at the Falcons' three-yard line after a 104-yard kickoff return distinguished a strong day and allowed the Falcons to flip a strong wave of momentum in the final quarter that could have slipped away.
• Raiders FB Marcel Reece proved to be a dangerous pass-catching weapon out of the backfield against an overly aggressive, attacking Bears' defense. Carson Palmer has begun to look much more comfortable in the offense. The Raiders beat the Bears on the strength of their defense, creating turnovers, and confusing backup QB Caleb Hanie.
• For Eagles' fans to chant for Andy Reid to be fired is short-sighted and foolish. By making many coaching changes this offseason and having to adjust to an NFL-shortened offseason featuring a high number of signings, the Eagles were clearly in a transition period this season. It took time to get acclimated and they dropped many games they could have won in the fourth quarter. Nonetheless, if anyone knows how to fix the Eagles' problems, it is Reid. If he were to become available on the coaching market, he would be highly coveted.
• The Bills and Buccaneers each have lost five games in a row while the Chargers skidded to their sixth consecutive loss. Buffalo has overcome a rash of injuries to the offensive line and were able to keep the Jets' aggressive defense in check by reshuffling the deck, moving Kraig Urbik to center and kicking Andy Levitre back to guard. However, the defense, which has struggled to create pressure in every loss, allowed Mark Sanchez to capitalize in too many critical situations. The lack of a pass rush could force defensive coordinator George Edwards to field more creative blitz packages. A wet field contributed to a high number of turnovers in Tampa Bay, and the emergence of Chris Johnson behind an energized offensive line helped the Titans' cause. The Chargers have had a tough draw since their bye, with a number of cross-country games, odd prime-time slots and tough competition. They have been competitive in every game against the Jets, Chiefs, Packers, Raiders, Bears and Broncos. Travelling to the East Coast to face Jacksonville next week won't make the task any easier, nor will mounting injuries that have compounded the situation.
• For as much as Blaine Gabbert can be criticized for holding on to the ball too long, his offensive line left him battered and heavily under duress against Houston, making Connor Barwin look like Mario Williams with a franchise-record four sacks. J.J. Watt picked up two of his own. Jaguars ORT Guy Whimper has struggled in place of the injured Eben Britton.