Tebow is a quarterback who's quite familiar with a spread offense, and that’s the foundation for everything Kelly has done offensively since becoming the Philadelphia Eagles head coach.
Tebow is athletic and a powerful runner, two characteristics Kelly should crave, as they make the Heisman winner an effective read-option threat.
But then when the thought of Tebow sharing a field with Kelly in any capacity—even as the most magnetizing fifth-string player in the history of organized sports—sinks a little deeper, you reach a state of bewilderment.
Tebow is many things athletically. But he’s not a quarterback, and he’s not about to become one. At his best moments, Tebow is a player who has little place on the Eagles roster under Kelly, a coach who places great emphasis on “repetitive accuracy,” per Joe Giglio of NJ Advance Media:
If we’re being generous, Tebow is an offseason experiment, and a hopeful one. If we’re being realistic, he’s a camp arm buried on the quarterback depth chart behind Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and G.J. Kinne.
Tebow has been working with renowned quarterback whisperer Tom House over the past 18 months. Applying a Malcolm Gladwell-ism, House Told NFL Network’s Albert Breer that for throwing mechanics changes to truly sink in, at least 10,000 repetitions are required. That’s how new, better habits become muscle memory, and a wonky delivery is forgotten forever.
“He’s busted his butt,” House told Breer in March, shortly after Tebow’s workout in Philadelphia. “He spins the ball better than he did and he’s much more accurate than he was. I think he’s ready.”
Kelly clearly agrees to some extent because Tebow has been available since he was cut by the New England Patriots in August 2013. The only difference between that Tebow and the current model is House and his jolly praise.
Maybe he’ll surprise us, and a reshaped Tebow will be able to hit receivers in stride with confidence while making proper reads. Maybe he’ll feel more at ease in the pocket and show some sort of comfort even against preseason nobodies.
But embracing that future and a complete transition under House takes some creativity even for the most jovial optimists. Please recall the last time we saw Tebow, when he was more than just unfit for Chip Kelly.
He was unfit for the NFL.
Staring is rude
Let’s play along with House for a moment and pretend we live in a world where Tebow has been fixed mechanically. Fine, but what about his vision that was glued to one receiver, and only one receiver, far too often?
Becoming fixated on a primary receiver can be a common problem early for developing quarterbacks, especially those like Tebow who have athletic instincts and an impulse to either hit that first read or run.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick battled a similar tendency in 2014 during his regression. And when Tebow last took a somewhat meaningful snap during the 2013 preseason, his stationary eyes were a glaring flaw.
In the third quarter of a game against the New York Giants, the Patriots called a play that placed Tebow in a familiar environment. He was in the shotgun, his natural habitat, and had to take a quick two-step drop on 1st-and-10 before finding a receiver.
He chose to look right after completing his drop. Then he kept looking right, and he looked right some more.
Just over two seconds passed between when Tebow received the ball and when he released a throw intended for Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson. He was staring at Dobson’s numbers the entire time, allowing Giants cornerback Aaron Ross to break on the ball long before it started a failed journey.
Ross jumped the route easily, nearly coming away with an interception.
When Tebowmania—complete with Tebowing and #TebowTime—was at its peak in 2011, Tebow didn’t throw many interceptions. He started 11 games for the Denver Broncos that season, chucking a pick on only 2.2 percent of his throws (six interceptions on 271 regular-season attempts), per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
But that was mostly a product of intricate management. Tebow attempted 25-plus passes during only four of his starts that season, and 85 of his 126 completions (67.5 percent) came either behind the line of scrimmage or within nine yards, per Pro Football Focus.
He still heaved footballs deep often enough. They just rarely reached friendly hands.
Deep throwing = deep trouble
The old Tebow didn’t necessarily lack for arm strength. He could have used some more zip, sure, but getting balls to sail great distances wasn’t his greatest hurdle. No, the insurmountable challenge for him was placing said balls even remotely within the wingspan of the intended receiver.
That’s a critical and likely fatal flaw for Tebow in a Kelly offense. The Eagles have a passing-game approach that leans heavily on two qualities Tebow doesn’t have as a passer: an ability to make good decisions on quick reads and deep-ball accuracy to capitalize on the many downfield mismatches created.
Let’s travel back in time once more to that Giants-Patriots game to show an utter lack of the latter. Again, please keep in mind this was the fourth quarter of the fourth preseason game. Many of the defenders Tebow was throwing against would be jobless soon.
On 2nd-and-10, around midfield, Tebow rolled out to his right after a play fake. He had roughly eight miles of space and time when he looked up to scan the field.
His release was, well, different. Tebow didn’t set his feet, which resulted in an off-balance delivery and little thrust from his lower half to guide the ball.
The throw had to clear an oncoming defender. But with improper balance, Tebow’s motion began to resemble that of an Olympic shot-putter.
What was intended to be a lofted, high-arcing floater placed in the hands of an open receiver instead became a wobbler requiring at least one step ladder.
That’s what House started with, which is why until it’s demonstrated on a football field, reports of Tebow’s sudden throwing revival will be greeted mostly with rolling eyes.
Only a complete turnaround would make Tebow useful for Kelly, whose offense truly thrives when the quarterback can successfully target deep areas of the field.
During Kelly’s first season in the NFL, his Eagles recorded 80 catches for 20-plus yards, leading the league by a wide margin (the Broncos were second with 68). Nick Foles started the majority of Philadelphia’s games at quarterback that season, and he completed 45.5 percent of his 20-plus yard attempts, per PFF.
Kelly entered the NFL with an eye for creating and exploiting favorable matchups, and he needs a quarterback who can connect consistently. That’s not Tebow.
|Tebow vs. Foles vs. Bradford on 20-plus yard throws|
|Quarterback||+20 yard completions||+20 yard TDs||+20 yard comp %|
|Nick Foles (2013)||25||14||45.5|
|Sam Bradford (2012)||26||8||41.7|
|Tim Tebow (2011)||18||5||31.7|
|Source: Pro Football Focus|
Foles’ accuracy declined in 2014, but that didn’t stop Kelly from following the script. Before Foles went down with a broken collarbone in Week 9, he led the league with 18.9 percent of his attempts traveling 20-plus yards, per PFF.
Sam Bradford may not be a fit either with his status as a checkdown compiler and a lowly career per-attempt average of 6.3 yards. However, even he’s displayed better deep-ball placement than Tebow, as noted in the table above, which shows Bradford’s last healthy season.
But, but…he’s an athlete?
And so we’re forced to circle back around, with Tebow’s NFL existence still clinging to his one redeeming quality: He’s a running back who can sort of, occasionally throw.
|Most quarterback rushing yards, 2010-2012|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|
The thought of utilizing Tebow in a wildcat or hybrid role is usually better as a thought. Kelly’s offense is rooted in disguise and misdirection, much of which disappears when the starting quarterback is yanked in favor of Tebow, whose purpose is clear.
The Eagles just invested heavily in DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, two running backs paid to be brute bulldozers. Any snap Tebow takes away from them is a snap wasted, and learning a new position like tight end at 27 years old is, at best, misguided wish-casting.
Tebow’s time with the Eagles will be short and fueled by Kelly’s curiosity. Oddly, in 2011, the then-Oregon Ducks head coach summarized his approach to quarterback evaluation by saying, “I look for a quarterback who can run, and not a running back who can throw," per Grantland’s Chris B. Brown.
“I want a quarterback who can beat you with his arm. We are not a Tim Tebow type of quarterback team. I am not going to run my quarterback 20 times on power runs.”
His thinking was right then. Now? His thinking is…unique.