The curious case of Tim Tebow

Originally written on Football By Football  |  Last updated 3/21/15

Tim Tebow’s quasi-return to the NFL courtesy of a tryout with the Eagles again raises the question why he couldn’t succeed in the NFL. Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

By Brady Quinn

The sporting world’s most persistent water cooler argument returned to the forefront this week:

You are an NFL team desperate for a QB. What if I told you I found one?  In games he’s started, his team has had a winning (8-6) record.  He started at quarterback for a playoff win. He’s thrown 17 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions. He’s athletic too, rushing for 12 touchdowns.  And get this…he’s clutch. Leading multiple 4th quarter comebacks. Would you be interested? Why wouldn’t this be YOUR guy? 

This is the paper resume NFL football fans know so well. Naturally, it’s Tim Tebow.  

Until this past week, Tim Tebow hasn’t had a sniff from an NFL team since 2013 training camp with the New England Patriots. Chip Kelly brought Tim back into NFL headlines these week, keeping outsiders guessing by bringing in the former Heisman Trophy winner for a workout.

This time of year is always full of sleight of hand, so hearing this news brought so many questions to my mind:  

Why now if you just traded for your new franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford?  

How will his former New York Jet teammate, Mark Sanchez, feel after just re-signing with the team? In the past, Sanchez has publicly expressed his distaste with competing on a roster with Tebow.  

How would a career 47.9% passer fit in Chip Kelly’s system?    

Was this a favor to Tom House (NFL quarterback guru who has worked with Tim)? Or was there genuine interest?  

Tebow left Philly without a contract, but the “what ifs” are back, and hope springs eternal for this old debate. However this shakes out, it’s worth exploring why Tim Tebow hasn’t gotten another chance, and how things might go better now if he does.  

Tim and I played together in Denver for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Tim played three seasons in the NFL, so since I’ve spent more time with him in the QB room than any other NFL quarterback, I’d venture to say I know him and his game the best of any of his former teammates.  

Many of these things about Tim you’ve already heard: 

He’s an extremely hard worker – always one of the last players off the practice field. Tim is a vocal leader that showed extreme passion for the game of football. He wasn’t a liability off the field, rarely ever went out, and never put himself in a predicament. Tebow is a God-fearing man who wasn’t afraid to share his feelings about his Lord and Savior. Again on paper, he seems to check off the all the boxes of intangibles one would want for their franchise QB. So why has Tim Tebow remained out of the NFL?  

One statistic that you read above stands out and not in a good way … his completion percentage. Much has been made of Tim’s throwing motion since he arrived in the NFL. Some say “he has a hitch in his delivery.” Others call it a “wind-up.” Or “he takes too big of a stride with his delivery.” 

All of these could be right and a possible contributors to Tebow’s struggles, yet all seem wrong as a singular issues he has when you realize that’s the exact same motion that helped win two national championships and a Heisman Trophy in college. More pointedly, this is the same throwing motion that completed 67% of his passes through out his college career. 

So what changed?  

The football is still the same shape … oblong, just missing a couple of stripes from a college football. No-stripes can’t account for a 20% drop.  Field dimensions are still the same, hashes just a bit more narrow. He played with and against NFL talent playing in the SEC. Played in large and loud venues, so the stage isn’t the problem either.  

There is the NFL playbook …from my experience, that’s the first real “new” story.  

The jump from a college offensive system to an NFL system can be daunting for a young QB. The terminology is different, so essentially you are learning a new language to communicate to your teammates. What is required of the QB may be intensified mentally and physically. Mentally some NFL systems call the QB to set the run blocking assignments or the pass protection scheme, point out hot routes and sight adjustments in case of dogs or blitzes. You’re expected to make “check-with-mes” or “audibles” at the line of scrimmage. 

Physically, many QBs must adjust to playing from under center …a big adjustment for Tebow. This means taking 7-step drops, boots and play action pass sets that are foreign to the college game these days. In theory, adjusting physically may seem simplistic, but in reality it’s a much greater hurdle to find the balance and rhythm needed to consistently master the footwork in the heat of competition. Throw this all together and the transition to the NFL is more difficult than many realize.  Tim has been a pretty solid case study for that idea.  

Tim didn’t have the luxury to sit, learn and develop. He was thrust into playing sporadically his rookie year before starting the final three games of that season (2010). It was pretty obvious he hadn’t yet absorbed the offense mentally, or made the physical adjustments in his footwork or throwing motion to adapt to the NFL game.  

Over the following offseason, much was made of his work to change his release. He worked with our QB coach, offensive coordinator, quality control, myself and pretty much anyone who’d give it a shot.  

Heck, even John Elway threw his hat in the ring for a while. 

Fact is, it’s hard to reprogram the way you throw when you’ve been doing it for 18 years of your life. It takes thousands and thousands of reps (10,000 if you are an “Outliers” fan) to master something, and I believe double that to change what you have already “mastered” once before. At this point in Tim’s career, he had already “mastered” the way he threw a football, and no drill or lessen over the course of a couple months would change that. When all the other competitive stimuli get tossed at you in warp speed, you almost always revert back to your dominant form of training … what you’ve done for 18 years, not 18 weeks. 

Now, it’s been reported that Tom House (former pitcher, pitching coach, and NFL QB guru) has been working with Tim over the last 18 months. I can confirm this because I’ve worked with Tom while rehabbing my back, and ran into Tim over the course of my rehabilitation. Given the amount of time Tim has been away from game competition and the type of intensive work Tom does, I have no doubt he could have rebuilt Tim’s throwing motion in that time reaching those 20,000+ reps. 

But again, was that really the cause of Tim’s inaccuracies in the first place? Maybe some but not all. To me, it was mental. 

Our system in Denver had to be broken down in simpler form to utilize Tim’s athletic ability, while also not putting too much on his plate given he lacked experience. The reads were simple: if there’s a post safety, throw to this guy or run. If there are two safeties, throw to this guy or run. Things were kept simple so he could play fast and not have to deal with all the varying defensive looks NFL teams can show. That approach can get you off that ground, but it’s not a long-term answer.  

What became problematic was when Tim would be indecisive with which side of the field to throw based on the coverage. The hesitation led to a slower decision which led to slower footwork and a rushed throw. In my opinion, this is what caused the inaccurate passes. 

The balls wobbled. His body was out of sync and out of rhythm – basically the two things Tom House stresses can’t be so in order to ensure the spin of a football. It’s that spin that helps greatly with accuracy.  

But it wasn’t just accuracy issues, it was also decision-making, as illustrated by the video below. These are two instances where the QB has a run play alerted prior to the snap with a directive for a pass play or alternate protection with different routes in case of an all-out blitz.

The first clip, the two-point conversion in the Miami game, should’ve been alerted to the pass against the obvious blitz. Tebow still ran it in and made a play.  

Buzzy Says : If he did not call for Blocking why did both guards pull and go around right End

sorry Brady you miss this one , Look at the tape .

This is the kind of thing at home that looks to the untrained eye like a great thing, but missing that simple check usually doesn’t work. As Tim struggled later on, much of it was not getting away with those earlier errors.   

The second clip in the video shows the play to win the game against the Jets. New York played Blitz 0 and Tim ran around safety Eric Smith who was unblocked.  

Buzzy Says : Smith was playing the right defence End and was semi blocked by the

Denvers left  tackle He broke the tackle and almost ran Tim down It look like pass blocking

to me Tim just saw Smith rush inside rather than contain and he took off wrong again Brady.

Yes, Tebow made a play, but he clearly should’ve checked the protection and routes. The defense almost always makes that play. For a quarterback, getting away with it then gets you a SportsCenter highlight, but reinforces an awareness problem that’s bound to resurface later.  

In both situations, the play should’ve been alerted to the pass or a different protection but wasn’t. But Tim did what he does best: he competed. He made a football play and scored.  

We won the game.  

That’s the bottom line, but when you analyze the play the morning after with your coaches and teammates, you try to make corrections knowing that another team will not let you make the same mistake and get away with it. And they usually don’t.   

When this mistake continued to repeat itself, it became a bit alarming.  But we were able to overcome this as a team in part because of Tim’s late-game heroics, but also because of a top-ranked defense and a clutch kicker. This was our recipe for success until defenses adjusted to exploit Tim’s weakness. 

Teams started putting an extra defender in the box and playing off man coverage to stop the zone reads and play tight coverage on the outside. This forced Tim to throw into tight windows and his long release combined with indecisiveness led to either inaccurate throws or no throw at all. New England two times (once in the playoffs), Buffalo, Detroit and Kansas City all played those coverage combinations down the stretch in 2011 and came away with decisive wins against us.   

These were the last games Tim got to start. He was later traded to New York Jets in 2012 to play some wildcat QB and special teams. He was then released after that season and signed by New England in 2013 for training camp. In New England, a very demanding system for quarterbacks, most of Tim’s bad habits appeared to reamain, and he was released at the final roster cuts. 

This brings us to today. 

Time away may actually have been the best thing that could’ve happened to Tim based upon his particular weaknesses. Not only has he been able to work on perfecting his throwing motion without being thrust into a game, but he’s also been able to learn different systems and study the game from afar. Changing flawed throwing mechanics that affect accuracy and learning to make checks and read defenses was just too much for where he was in his career.  

Teams adjusted to Tim. Hopefully he’s now made the adjustments in his own game as well.  

I have no doubt his next opportunity to play will be better than his last and he will be better prepared. I wish him all the best in his pursuit.  

But it’s now a matter of if that opportunity will ever happen.

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18 Responses to “The curious case of Tim Tebow”

  1. brandi says:

    So Brady knows Tim better than anyone? He apparently decided to ignore that John Fox specifically told Tim to throw those dirtballs. Maybe he also forgot that Phil Simms & his CBS crew were assigned the Broncos Games the entire time Tim was their Starting QB. And Phil said Pull the Trigger a week before Elway did. In fact he said forget all of the talk about Tim Tebow can’t throw. He spent two straight months with that Team, there in practices, etc. and Tim Tebow can throw as good as anyone. But John Fox is so terrified of Interceptions he and his staff had Tim afraid to fire it up unless the Game was on the line and what we saw late in games is the real Tim Tebow.

    Brady forgets that with the Jets Tim out every ball where he wanted it to go. 6 of 8 with one drop and one intentional throw-away.

    Brady Quinn decided to forget all of that and go for yeah Tim made big Plays and Won Games. But that isn’t what matters. In fact, it’s a bad thing. All that matters is whether or not you are a robot. If you’re a robot you’re NFL material. If you Win Games by doing things others don’t or can’t, then of course nobody is going to want you.

    Touchdown Jesus should give Brady Quinn a kick in the pants and say “It’s Fighting Irish. Not Whining Irish.”

    • Bigfan says:

      Interesting insight from Brady who obviously is working on life after pads. For him to take the Paul Harvey slant on his critique from “ONE WHO KNOWS” is ostensibly stating the obvious.

      Now taking it a Bigfan step farther isn’t this really JUST what teams do in their weekly game prep…spot weakness wherever? We see this every Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. That is what teams do!

      When defenses flushed Timmy out of the pocket (the Patriots come to mind) you had a better chance of the wheels coming off. Just look at Kapernick for the most recent example…after all that is what teams prep for isn’t it? Mismatches, exploiting weakness.

      Brady through your power of recall you simply brought to light some interesting insight however pointing out nothing new or at least to me or Timmy flaw wise. He worked on those then and is working on it now.

      I heard one of the QB GURUS say it this way…
      “You don’t take a shower and you’re clean for a week”. Gee do you suppose that might be why folks like Tom House see these guys a lot? I wonder why QBs work so hard to keep their game edge?

      • brandi says:

        During Tim’s time with the Broncos, much of Denver Media covered alot of what was really going on. But the National Media didn’t care.The NY Media could have fixed alot of that when Tim was with the Jets. But they’d gotten so caught up in the Rex culture. I will say this though. Much of the NY Sports Media went with the Fans late in that Season and said Tim should get a Start. Even if only to see what he has. Obviously that didn’t happen and all we’ve had since then is a huge attempt to rewrite history.

  2. Bubbaelvis says:

    I think Tim could read defenses but when he really needed a big play he trusted his instincts and simply made a play. Everyone who has seen him throw lately is saying how great he looks. Trent Dilfer recently watched Tim, Drew Brees and Austin Appleby (Purdue) throwing at Tom House’s and raved how they were ripping dimes. Other players are starting to speak out. I think the time is right for Him to come back. I am believing for the best.

  3. andrea says:

    Just my humble opinion, but with the brainless egomaniac John Elway as GM – I believe Tebow, Quinn and Orton were in a no win situation from the get-go.

    96 million dollars minus a 4 million dollar pay cut for Sir Peyton the Great and they still have not won a Super Bowl.

    • brandi says:

      John Elway has problems keeping his ego from making his decisions. And there’s no question John has his own ideas of the classic QB. But the difference between John and so many others is he doesn’t seem to think a QB has to Play his idea of the Classic style to be successful. I also am almost certain, but I can’t say absolutely so, that John would have left it up to Tim whether to stay or go but Peyton had his own ideas about that.

      I do know, Broncos Execs were saying…as Ian Rapoport described it…”to anyone who would listen”…at the Combines that the Jets would have Won games if they’d Played Tim. That may not sound like much to some. But just look at the trouble stirred up by Woody Johnson saying he wanted to see Revis back with the Jets. What the Broncos did at the Combines is a far bigger NFL taboo with the potential for big penalties, than what Woody did.

      I first heard about Elway being ready to put the full court press on getting Peyton 3 months before it was even announced what the Colts were going to do and what I heard at the time was thoughts of doing something along the lines of what the Gators did with Tim his Freshman year for a few years as he worked on fine-tuning his Game and gaining experience. Obviously that never happened. But I really think John thought he was doing right by Tim with the Jets trade and never expected them to treat him the way they did.

      I’m not defending everything Elway. No way. But I think he has taken some hits not due him.

    • ck says:

      Andrea; Agree that Elrot is just that “ROTTEN” and full of deceit/EGO!!! He never did do Tebow any favors and made sure there were more than enough obstacles to overcome which only made TEBOW STRONGER!!!

  4. ck says:

    Why should we accept Brady Quinn’s version as the “GOSPEL TRUTH” when we already know what he did in that GQ interview that was not favorable to his highly esteemed teammate, TIM TEBOW!!! Guess he needs a job now that he has totally dive bombed where the NFL is concerned. Looks like he needs to boost his income at Tebow’s expense once again!!! The minute Tebow gets an opportunity (just like he did in Denver) then Brady Quinn unleashes the little green-eyed monster: ENVY!!! Just my two cents worth.

  5. andrea says:

    Not buying the ” Elway actually loves Tebow ” malarkey.

    If I remember correctly when the “Peyton Manning traveling sideshow” started and he visited Denver – from the first moment he was in Denver and the following weeks ?months that went by – NO ONE in the Bronco front office from Elway on down through the janitor bothered to give Tebow a simple phone call explaining what was happening.

    I do remember when the Peyton Manning traveling sideshow worked its way to the Titans, the head coach of the Titans called the QB back then ( Matt Hasselback) and updated him of what was going on.

    Then the very day the greatest choke artist of all time picked the Broncos – Elway just had to trade Tebow to another team the very same day. You would think if Elway was such a swell guy he would have given Tebow a day or two to visit the Jets and the Jags to see which team he would be more comfortable playing with. After all Tebow did take the 1-4 Broncos to the playoffs – right?

    I believe Brandi is correct that Peyton Manning did not want Tebow around at all.

    That is why I am so happy that the owner lost 96 million dollars on the greatest choke artist of all time.

    That is why I am so happy that Elway looks like a fool bringing the greatest choke artist of all time to Denver.

    Karma will come one day to the greatest choke artist of all time. You can bet on it.

    • brandi says:

      It has been a rough off-season for Broncos Fans. A few Denver Sports Commentators have pretty much said the Peyton Experiment was a Bust. At least in terms of how it was sold to the Fans. Tim’s a nice guy, gave us a nice Season. A “Good” Season in Pat Bowlen’s words. But Championships are the goal. Not Playoffs. Not Playoff wins. Winning it all.

      And Peyton was supposed to be the guy who would take it over the top. The first One & Done Season began the Spin Job. Peyton took them as far in the Playoffs as Tebow. A first round Bye followed by a loss is not the same as advancing with a Home Playoff Win. It may look the same in terms of where the Team’s name gets dropped from the brackets. But that is the ONLY similarity.

      Now all of those Anti-Tebowists have changed the rhetoric from Championships to look at those Regular season Wins. It’s the Broncos version of 32 Teams can’t be wrong therefore Tebow Sucks. When they run out of ways to defend anything else then switch up to a different standard. Tebow can’t Win because he’s not NFL QB material. Yeah, except he did so there goes that theory. OK, how about nobody is signing him. Tebow can’t win championships. Oh, Peyton hasn’t either. Championships aren’t what it’s about.

      This who Tim Tebow versus the National Excuses League has been beyond absurd and unmatched in Pro Sports in the since the Baseball Racial Integration Era.

    • ck says:

      Andrea: You have spoken the truth on PM and he should have never done that to TEBOW!!! IT WAS TEBOW’S TEAM B/C THEY B-E-L-I-E-V-E-D!!!

      • ck says:

        Oh, and Elrot is well, ELROT!!!

        • tawk2 says:

          I agree with you and andrea about Elroy and Manning. You just had to see the look of total disgust on Elrots face when Tim won. Each game Elrot never looked happy! I bet Manning did not want Tim around either, I still cannot believe everything Tebow including records were taken down in Denver. They both deserve each other, I hope they both go down the drain together!

  6. jp says:

    Another case of an ex player cutting his teeth in the media by going after Tebow. Buzzy showed just how weak this idiots arguments are. Indecisesive? Confused ? Sounds like Manning in the playoffs.
    Cant throw indecisive? Would Elrot or Manning take 323 yrds passing 0 interceptions and 2 run touchdowns against the top defense and win in the playoffs.
    Teams like Greenbay sacrifice wins and even superbowls because they blackball Tebow…. it would have been nice to have T score 2 td against
    Seattle first and goal within the 3 instead of 2 FG because an injured Rogers could not move and scramble. I wonder how many lowlight examples
    a hack like Quinn could come up with on mediocrities like Cutler Stanford and the Cinn QB cant even remember his name esp. in big games
    Denver looks like an 8-8 9-7 one and out team for 2015-good they and their fans deserve it

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