NFL Preseason: Tim Tebow and 10 Surprising Preseason Trends

Alexander DiegelCorrespondent IIIAugust 21, 2011

NFL Preseason: Tim Tebow and 10 Surprising Preseason Trends

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    Tim Tebow dropping to third on the depth chart. Teams trying to coach through glaring weaknesses. Pleasant surprises and bitter disappointments. After a flurry of free agent activity to kick off the season, the preseason has provided plenty of story lines.

    After two weeks of action, here are 10 of the most intriguing trends of the NFL preseason.  

Success of the Washington Redskins' Offense

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    A couple of journeymen competing to be the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback in John Beck and Rex Grossman. No 1,000-yard running backs. One 1,000-yard receiver.

    Certainly, the Washington Redskins would be one of the NFL’s worst offenses in 2011. Hold that thought, as Shanahans Mike (head coach) and Kyle (offensive coordinator) might have a plan after all.

    When the elder Shanahan said he had Beck as his top passer in the 2007 NFL draft, it had to be mere posturing, covering for a quarterback situation that looked like one of the NFL’s least enviable.

    In his first preseason start with the club, Beck has quieted the doubters, going 14-for-17 for 140 yards against a first-team Indianapolis Colts' pass defense that was a solid 13th in the NFL last season.

    Tim Hightower looks like he may be Shanahan’s newest find at running back, as the one-cut offense looks perfectly suited to Hightower's skills. The former Arizona Cardinals back has rushed 16 times for 114 yards in two preseason games.

    If Hightower’s preseason success does not translate to the regular season, it could be rookie Roy Helu who thrives. Helu has rushed 22 times for 129 yards. The rookie has good size (6’0" 220 lbs.) and ran a 4.4 40 meters at the combine. Helu has been a tough, shifty runner for the Redskins thus far. 

    On the whole, the Redskins’ first-team unit has dominated two 2010 playoff teams in the Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Colt McCoy's Gun-Slinging Cleveland Browns

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    Could McCoy really be the answer at quarterback for a Cleveland Browns franchise that has not had a reliable arm since its return to action in 1999? If you are a believer in preseason performances, McCoy has answered that question with a resounding “yes.”

    In Week 1, McCoy outshone Super Bowl star Aaron Rodgers by picking apart the Packers’ first-team defense, completing 90 percent of his passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. McCoy followed that performance up by throwing for 96 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout against the Lions.

    With McCoy and Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis, the Browns could actually have something brewing in their rebuilding process. Now if they could just get McCoy a receiver to make some plays. Terrell Owens, anyone?

Philadelphia Eagles’ Bad “Dream”

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    When you have the NFL’s loudest offseason, a super-athlete at quarterback and a backup quarterback who would be starting for several teams around the league, the NFL preseason should be your showcase. On the contrary, the Philadelphia Eagles have been a bust thus far.

    Michael Vick completed three passes to the Pittsburgh Steelers and five to his own team. Vince Young did not look any better in relief, throwing another interception and sporting a QB rating of 13.5.

    The “Dream Team” secondary? It got torched by Ben Roethlisberger, who went 8-for-12 en route to 125 yards and two touchdowns.

    The Eagles have a lot of work to do before fulfilling any Super Bowl predictions. 

Pittsburgh Steelers Sticking with Offensive Line

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    For a Pittsburgh Steelers team stacked with explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball, you would think the team would take care of the one thing that could make it all come tumbling down: the offensive line.

    Pittsburgh released both of last season’s starting tackles, Max Starks and Flozell Adams. Both are still available via free agency, but the team has yet to make it apparent they are bringing either back.

    They may want to re-think their stand on that subject. The Steelers have shuffled their offensive line through two preseason games to less-than-desirable results. In 17 pass plays, Ben Roethlisberger has been hit eight times and sacked twice.

    That is not going to get the job done for a team seeking its NFL record seventh Super Bowl season. If the Steelers do not do a better job of keeping their franchise quarterback off the turf, it is unlikely he makes it through the season.

Chris Johnson vs. the Tennessee Titans

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    So Chris Johnson is not happy with the Tennessee Titans’ offer to make him the NFL’s highest-paid running back? I can’t blame him.

    The NFL running back may be the most underpaid player in all of sports. Every NFL analyst and expert will tell you if want to win the Super Bowl, you have to be able to run the ball and stop the run.

    The running back also is susceptible to the most injuries and has the shortest career life span, with an average of three seasons. CJ2K is entering his fourth season. A 190 lb. player whose entire game is based on quickness and speed, his peak could be a short one.

    Tennessee has already gotten a three-year bargain, paying Johnson just $550,000 for three seasons that have seen him get at least 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns in each one.

    Couple that with the fact that Johnson was also the Titans’ leading receiver, and you are darn right Johnson deserves every bit of the $120 million Larry Fitzgerald stands to make with his new contract.

    Any chance the Titans have of competing stands with the performance of CJ2K. Besides, the team can absolutely afford to pay him. Their highest-paid player is Nate Washington and his $27 million deal. For the record, Washington’s 1,256 yards in two seasons with Tennessee is 232 yards less than CJ2K’s worst year from scrimmage, his rookie season. 

No Interest in Tiki Barber

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    As with any NFL preseason, season-ending injuries have struck running backs expected to fill a role with their respective teams. The Detroit Lions have lost Mike Leshoure, expected to be a third-down complement to Jahvid Best.

    Ryan Williams, another second-round pick, expected to push Arizona Cardinals incumbent Beanie Wells, has been placed on injured reserve. The San Francisco 49ers have a questionable situation behind oft-injured starter Frank Gore.

    Anyone would be silly to think Barber will be close to his 2006 form when he had over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Still, Barber can be had at the veteran’s minimum and may be able to contribute as a third-down back.

    Barber was always a great receiver out of the backfield, and being able to train against a future hall-of-fame cornerback in his twin brother Ronde, his pass-catching is the skill that is least likely to leave him.

    Interestingly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running backs have a combined one NFL carry behind starter LeGarrette Blount. Could we be seeing a fraternal reunion in Tampa? 

NFL Lockout Has Little Effect on Rookies

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    The story of the offseason was how the rookies would be the biggest losers of the NFL lockout. To the contrary, many rookies have been up to par with their veteran counterparts.

    Carolina Panthers’ No. 1 pick Cam Newton already has a preseason start under his belt. Like most rookie quarterbacks, with or without a full offseason of workouts, Newton has had mixed results and has shown flashes of the ability that made him the top pick.

    Blaine Gabbert is giving David Garrard a serious push as the starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jake Locker has had one good performance and one bad one for the Tennessee Titans while Matt Hasselbeck keeps the seat warm and Christian Ponder has completed over half of his passes with no picks in two games for the Minnesota Vikings.

    The quarterbacks always dominate the press coverage, but several other rookies have been proving they belong in "The League" as well. Mark Ingram has two touchdowns in two games for the New Orleans Saints.

    Defensive end Cam Heyward has been one of the best stories in Pittsburgh Steelers’ camp, while Julio Jones has four catches for 73 yards and is displaying the kind of big-play potential the Atlanta Falcons saw when they made him the sixth pick in the draft. 

Suspension of Terrelle Pryor

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    By upholding the NCAA’s five-game suspension of former Ohio State star Terrelle Pryor, the NFL is on the precipice of a very slippery slope. For decades, the NCAA has been all-but the NFL’s minor league farm system. The decision to stand by the NCAA’s punishment closes the gap even more. 

    The fallout of the Miami scandal could change the NCAA football landscape. If the NFL is going to start suspending punished college stars, they need to do the same for coaches. It is simply not fair for coaches like Pete Carroll to escape NCAA sanction by running to the NFL if players cannot do the same. 

Peyton Manning a No-Show for Indianapolis Colts

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    Simply put, the Indianapolis Colts are a 4-12 (if that) team without Peyton Manning behind center. We could be closer to that reality than ever before.

    The 35-year-old Manning is not going to play in the preseason and is questionable for the start of the season, saying he will need “every second” of the next two weeks to rehab from offseason neck surgery.

    Even if Manning is ready to go for Week 1, to what capacity will we see the superstar and his teammates? Even the legendary Manning will need practice to be able to carry his team, as Indianapolis is not a squad that can sit back and let him manage the game while the rest of the roster secures a victory.

    A slow start could prove fatal to the playoff hopes of the Colts, as a young and hungry Texans team seems poised to take over the AFC South. 

Tim Tebow's Battle with the Denver Broncos

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    As the offseason progressed, it seemed likely the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback would be Tim Tebow. After flirting with trading away Kyle Orton, it was assumed the former Florida star would battle the veteran for the top spot.

    In the first preseason game, Tebow was the most accurate of Denver’s three quarterbacks, going 6-for-7 for 91 yards and added two carries for 15 yards. Then, in the team’s second preseason game, he was dropped to third on the depth chart behind Brady Quinn, who has proven he cannot play in this league and had just two pass attempts.

    In limited playing time last season, Tebow performed as well as you could expect from any raw rookie quarterback. He completed half of his passes with five touchdowns, three interceptions, an 82.1 QB rating and an additional 227 yards rushing for six touchdowns. He seemed well on his way towards proving himself as an NFL player. 

    When Tebow entered the 2010 draft, it was generally acknowledged he would never be a classic pocket passer. To get the most out of the Heisman winner, teams would likely have to adjust their game plan to accommodate Tebow’s dual-threat athleticism. If the Broncos are not that team, then why did they waste a first-round pick on him? 

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