Chris Graham: Asking an awful lot to make the Tebow experiment work out

And the great Tim Tebow experiment continues – with the news from Denver Broncos chief of football operations John Elway that Tebow will enter his third season as the incumbent at quarterback after leading the team to the second round of the 2012 NFL playoffs.

Tebow threw for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in leading Denver to a 7-4 regular-season finish and an improbable wild-card round victory over the favored Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebow struggled mightily in the divisional playoffs Saturday at New England in a 45-10 loss, completing just nine of his 26 pass attempts for 136 yards.

“I think he made some good strides this year,” said Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who led Denver to two Super Bowl titles in the 1990s. He was perhaps being generous. Tebow completed less than 50 percent of his throws (46.5 percent), 34th among the 34 quarterbacks who threw enough passes to qualify for the league passing title (the next lowest – Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert, who completed 50.8 percent of his passes).

Tebow was also 34th and last in passing yards per game (124 yards per game, with Gabbert in 33rd with 148 yards per game), and his 72.9 passer rating was 28th in the league.

He saved his worst for return matches against Kansas City (6-for-22, 60 yards in a 7-3 loss in Week 17) and New England (34.6 percent completion percentage, 52.7 passer rating after completing 50 percent and putting up an 80.5 passer rating in Week 15).

If Elway and the Broncos are serious about Tebow being the guy again next year, it’s clear that they will need to make, as ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge said in the wake of the playoff loss this weekend, a commitment to Tebow’s preferred zone-read option offense. Hoge talked at length about how the team will need to make personnel moves designed to surround Tebow with skill players and linemen who can play the scheme. I’ll take Hoge one further and suggest that the Denver offensive staff might want to schedule a spring of visits to college campuses including Ohio State (where Tebow’s college coach, Urban Meyer, is now the head coach) and Texas (where Vince Young and Colt McCoy ran the zone-read to near-perfection) to learn the ins and outs of the system and importantly how to call plays in the zone-read.

Maybe it’s not the worst news in the world, in that context, that offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is on the short list for the head-coaching job at Miami. It seemed to me that McCoy never felt comfortable with the zone-read, tightening the reins on Tebow and seeming to stress to the second-year quarterback that he basically focus on not screwing things up rather than going out and trying to make things happen.

Give Tebow a play-caller who knows the system and is confident that he can run it, some skill players and blockers who can play with him, a pair of backups who can run the zone-read in relief so that the Broncos don’t have to reinvent the wheel for a week or two or more if Tebow goes down with a midseason injury, and the Tim Tebow experiment may just work out for Denver in the end.

That’s asking an awful lot, of course.


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