Lost in all the excitement surrounding Tim Tebow's success in Denver is the fact that the rookie quarterback still has a long way to go in making the transition to the NFL game.
As impressive as the six-game winning streak he's led is, as uncanny as his knack for coming through big in the clutch, Tebow won't be able to hide behind the option-offense forever. Eventually, he'll need to learn how to be as effective from the pocket as he has been at running John Fox's version the option offense.
Give coach Fox due credit for designing an offense tailor-made to suit the talent he has at his disposal. While some coaches, in stubborn adherence to a particular system, would rather continue attempting to force a square peg through a round hole, Fox has turned a weakness into a strength. He's brought the Broncos back from the dead by recognizing the advantage of running a scheme that opposing NFL defenses aren't used to seeing.
Of course, it goes without saying that Tebow deserves his share of the credit for Denver's recent success, as well. His athletic ability, infectious enthusiasm and ability to make plays when it counts has as much to do with the impressive about face the Broncos have made this year as anything else.
That said, how far the Broncos can ride the QB-option is questionable, at least if past history is any indication. In order for Tebow to maintain the level of success he's enjoyed so far, he'll need to continue his development towards becoming as effective from the inside of the pocket as he is on the outside.
As exciting and sexy as the idea of a quarterback that runs as well as he throws is, NFL history has shown us time and again that the ability to run and throw is useless without the ability to set your feet in the pocket, read the coverage, go through the progressions and deliver the football. Though many have tried through the years none have had any meaningful success without establishing themselves as a pure pocket-passer first.
If we've learned anything at all, we've learned that quick feet and a strong arm will only get you so far in the NFL. If not next week against Chicago, then certainly by the time the playoffs come around, the Broncos will come face to face with the necessity of an effective passing game. The first defense the Broncos face, good enough in the defensive backfield to play man, is going to stack the line, put a spy on Tebow and dare him to win from the pocket.
And though some may disagree, the Vince Youngs and Mike Vicks of the world stand as living proof of the fact that athletic ability can only take you so far in this league.
Playing quarterback in the NFL is about as difficult a job as there is, which is why only a handful of the 32 quarterbacks in the league can actually pull it off with any consistency. The knowledge needed is not something one is born with, nor is it something that can be learned without the benefit of experience.
Every rookie quarterback that comes in to the league has an almost impossibly steep learning curve to overcome and Tebow is no different.
John Elway generated a lot of excitement when he came into the league, much in the same way that Tebow has, compensating for his shortcomings as a quarterback with his ability to scramble and make something happen when the play breaks down. It wasn't Elway's legs that got him those two Super Bowl rings, though. The truth is that by the time Elway got his first ring, he could barely run at all.
How long it takes Tebow to navigate that learning curve is debatable. However, that fact that he has a long way to go yet isn't. It's not a knock on the rookie, just a simple fact of life.
Once Tebow gets to the point where he can step up to the line of scrimmage, recognize the defense, make the correct adjustments before the snap, make the correct reads after the snap and deliver the football on time and on target, he will have arrived.
Until that day, though, the verdict must remain out.
In the history of the NFL, the number of quarterbacks to come straight out of college lighting it up can be counted on one hand. Virtually every quarterback to ever play the game, Elway included, needed time to make the transition. Odds are that Tebow will need time to develop and, as long as he continues to do so, he'll be given every possible chance to be successful in Denver.
Elway knows as well as any that mistakes are a part of the learning process. Because of this, Tebow will be given plenty of slack over the next few seasons to navigate the learning curve. Provided, of course, the perception remains that the youngster is continuing to develop at a reasonable pace.
Staying healthy is one sure-fire way of keeping the big boss happy. One of the biggest disadvantages of a quarterback that ditches the pocket at the first sign of trouble is the increase in the amount of contact that he exposes himself to.
Each time Tebow tucks the ball in and heads down field he's increasing his odds of getting hurt. There's not much Tebow can do to help the team from the sidelines, and the Broncos aren't paying him the big bucks to lounge around on the bench. One of the best things the rookie can do for his team is to keep himself upright.
As exciting and effective as Tebow has been running the football, where the Broncos would be today without him might be worth considering. True, running the option has put Denver in the position they're in, tied for first and firmly in the hunt for a playoff birth. Still, it's a risky proposition at the same time since one big hit could bring it all to a very sudden halt.
Nothing will win over Elway, the coaching staff or the fans easier than continuing to find ways to win games. There's very little about Ben Roethlisberger's game that could be called pretty. Not to say he isn't a great quarterback—he is, one of the greatest. Most would agree, though, that what he does best is pull big plays out of his rear end when the Steelers need them most.
Certainly all of the attributes teams look for in a franchise quarterback are important. That said, it's the un-coachable intangibles that ultimately separate the pretenders from the contenders in the NFL. And while it's far to soon to make a call on Tim Tebow, one way or the other, at this stage, it's the intangibles he demonstrates that are the most impressive aspect of his game.