ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Twice in the three weeks since he took over as Denver’s starting quarterback, Tim Tebow has had one of his sacks erased by the NFL’s statistics keepers after reviews of the game film.
The bruises are for keeps.
Tebow has been sacked a league-high 14 times in his three starts but just once at Oakland last week, when the Broncos installed the read-option as a major component of their unorthodox offense.
Including that sack and another that was later changed to a zero-yard rush, Tebow was hit 17 times by the Raiders on Sunday, when he took a helmet to the chin that split his lower lip.
Tebow brushes off concerns that the read-option is hazardous to his health, however.
“Those plays weren’t necessarily ones (where) you take big hits,” Tebow said. “I think that’s a little bit of a myth, too. You don’t necessarily get hit as much on read plays as people would think. I’d say your hits are more just sitting in the pocket.”
By putting the ball in running back Willis McGahee’s belly and then pulling it back to take off around the edge after reading the defense, Tebow often found himself basically running a naked bootleg.
Tebow was probably the best college quarterback ever to operate the option during his time at the University of Florida, but NFL linemen and linebackers are bigger, faster, stronger, quicker — and hit harder.
That’s led to questions about how sustainable the read-option can be for Tebow, especially with six of the remaining eight opponents employing a 3-4 scheme, where the defense is spread out more, making it harder for Tebow to turn the corner.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy suggested the read-option was the way to go against Oakland and will be sprinkled into future game plans, but week to week he’s going to adjust the offense for specific defenses.
The one thing he’s trying to do no matter the plays that are called is help Tebow avoid big hits, whether he’s surveying the field or running down it.
“Sometimes when you sit back in the pocket, you don’t see some of those things. And if it’s your blind side, you might (get) a guy Scott-free who you thought was supposed to be blocked,” McCoy said. “I think when he’s in the open field, he has a good feel for where guys are coming from and you’ll see some things.
“But, hey, when you play that style of football, you’re going to take your shots and it’s part of the game and he’s going to learn,” McCoy added. “And he’s learned already since last year, there’s going to be an opportune time for him to take a hit and (he knows) when he needs to slide, get down, get out of bounds and protect yourself because you’re going to take so many hits.”
McCoy knows that all too well.
He ran the option just once while he was a quarterback at the University of Utah in the 1990s.
“Yeah, I called it once up in Wyoming and I broke my collarbone and my first rib,” McCoy recalled. “I actually took the snap and got killed, so it wasn’t a good deal.”
It’s a story he’s relayed to Tebow and the other Broncos quarterbacks when they first started toying with the read-option strategy in 2010.
“Yeah, they all laughed about it when we started doing this last year, actually,” McCoy said. “We were telling some stories about things and I told them my great story about my one option play.”
Tebow has run the play thousands of times, and his familiarity with it showed Sunday, when the strategy befuddled the Raiders, who allowed 299 yards on the ground, including 118 by Tebow and 163 by McGahee.
Oakland employs a traditional 4-3 defensive scheme with four down linemen and three linebackers, and the Raiders ends, particularly former Broncos teammate Jarvis Moss, kept turning their shoulder and biting on the run up the middle, allowing Tebow to retract the football and scoot around the edge for big gains.
However, the Broncos’ next three opponents, Kansas City on Sunday followed by the New York Jets next Thursday and San Diego the following week, all employ the 3-4 scheme with three down linemen and four linebackers.
“It will just affect some of his reads,” coach John Fox said, “and it will be something he will study very hard, as will the rest of our offense.”
The Jets will provide a particularly tough challenge for Tebow and Denver’s young offensive line with all their movement and creative schemes.
After playing two 4-3 teams in the Vikings and Bears in December, the Broncos will finish with another trio of 3-4 teams: New England, which runs a hybrid, Buffalo and Kansas City again.
“There are different things you have to do versus it,” Tebow said. “… We just have to execute, but we’re not just worried about running the read-option. We have to execute in everything.”
What would help Tebow keep teams from stacking the box and blitzing so much is adding more of a downfield dimension to his passing game.
The Broncos haven’t stretched defenses much since Tebow was installed as the starter and Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd was traded to St. Louis last month.
The Chiefs have proven vulnerable over the middle with safety Eric Berry out for the season and safety Jon McGraw bothered by a bum shoulder.
McGahee said this week that despite their success running the ball, the passing game will have to improve for the Broncos (3-5) to have any shot of keeping up in the middling AFC West.
Tebow knows more long passes would make defenses dial back the pressure.
“I think we have to stay balanced is my opinion,” Tebow said. “When a defense doesn’t know if you’re throwing it or running it, I think that’s when you’re most effective, and that is where we need to be.”
That will also keep his jersey clean and give the NFL stats-keepers fewer sacks to review.
Notes: S Rahim Moore practiced for the second straight day Thursday after recovering from a concussion he sustained at Oakland last week when he ran into a teammate. “I thought I died for a second,” Moore said.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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