ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The latest debate raging around Tim Tebow is whether the Denver Broncos are doing all they can to give their raw quarterback every chance to succeed.
His pocket of protection has been disparaged and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s play-calling has drawn criticism from fans and broadcasters alike.
A close look at the film, however, shows the Broncos have tailored their offense to Tebow’s unorthodox skill set even though the results haven’t been pretty.
In his two starts, a win over the Dolphins and a loss to the Lions, Tebow has been in the shotgun an average of 40 times. From there, the Broncos have rushed the ball 17 times on average, half of the time on designed runs by Tebow.
And the Broncos have spread out their offense, using three wide receivers, an average of 50 times a game, almost every time with a tailback in the backfield with him.
Those numbers are way up from the first month of the season when Kyle Orton was Denver’s QB.
Tebow, though, has been slow to get rid of the football and his passes have mostly been off-target. His completion percentage is a paltry 46 percent, and he’s been sacked 13 times in two games during which the Broncos are just 6 for 30 on third-down conversions.
With his remarkable success and popularity at Florida, where he won two national championships and the 2007 Heisman Trophy, Tebow has probably gotten more attention and scrutiny than any other quarterback with five career starts.
His transition from combination college quarterback to pocket passer in the pros has been a difficult one.
“He’s a work in progress,” said coach John Fox, who intimated Monday that Tebow’s starting status is a week-to-week proposition.
John Elway says confidence is paramount for a young quarterback, who has to feel like he’s making progress, and McCoy said he doesn’t sense any doubts creeping into Tebow’s head.
“I mean, look at all the young quarterbacks in the league, how many come out right away and start lighting it up from the first game on?” McCoy said. “There aren’t many in the history of this game that do that. They all struggle early on, it’s an adjustment to them.
“He’s a young quarterback. So, there’s going to be growing pains.”
Raiders coach Hue Jackson, whose team hosts the Broncos on Sunday, said it’s clear the Broncos have made their playbook Tebow friendly.
“I think they are trying to build an offense for him,” Jackson said. “… They’re trying to move him around in the pocket a little bit. And then they’re using his legs in their running game so that he’s the primary ball carrier at times. So, I think they’re giving him opportunities to display his abilities.”
Since supplanting Orton at halftime against San Diego on Oct. 9, Tebow has run a team-high 29 times for a team-best 189 yards.
Tebow is more comfortable lining up in the shotgun than under center, where his footwork and messy mechanics are more of an issue. The trade-off is that he has to take his eyes off defenders and watch the ball come into his hands, then quickly look up again to decipher the defense.
On one play last week, he held the ball for nine seconds before being sacked in the pocket.
John Lynch, a nine-time Pro Bowler and former Broncos safety turned broadcaster, spent much of Sunday’s Fox telecast questioning the Broncos’ offensive game plan against Detroit.
He suggested Denver’s play-caller needed to call some easy throws to get Tebow into a rhythm so Denver’s 30th-ranked passing could get going.
Fox said the Broncos did throw some of the short routes Lynch was recommending.
“They were part of the game plan,” Fox said. “We hit some and we missed some, regardless of what type of passes they were, and we tried ’em all.”
McCoy said he always looks back at a game and wishes he’d have done something differently, but he brushed off the bashing of his overall play-calling.
“We’re going to do what we think is the best thing for our football team to win and you’re always going to have people that are going to point the finger somewhere,” McCoy said. “But we’re trying to do everything we can to help Tim and the football team be successful.”
And that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll mix in some short, safe throws early on against the Raiders, because what might soften up a defense and build Tebow’s confidence one week could backfire the next, he said.
“That’s going to change, I think, from week to week because you look at the scheme of a defense, what do they play?” McCoy said. “Is it someone like the Oakland Raiders, who plan man coverage-press? Well, some of those quick passing plays that we hit last week when they’re playing soft coverage, throwing a hitch outside, well those aren’t going to be simple completions anymore.”
Tebow said his coaches are stressing quicker decisions and a quicker release, admonishing him to find a receiver faster or just throw the ball away to avoid so many sacks.
An uptick in accuracy would help him, too. If Tebow could complete more passes downfield, he could force opponents to drop another safety into coverage rather than stacking the box and blitzing so much.
“I think you can count on that more often than not just because that’s what people have seen the last couple of weeks, teams loading the box and us struggling in the passing game,” McCoy said. “And we’ve just got to do a better job as an entire offense. It’s not just one guy. I can help him with certain calls and do things to help him … (but) we’ve just got to execute better.”
If Tebow has another bad game this weekend, Orton could regain his starting job or maybe the Broncos would turn to Brady Quinn, who hasn’t taken a regular-season snap since his arrival from Cleveland in the Peyton Hillis trade in March 2010.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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