Predicting Tebow

I've been one of the folks who would prefer a more balanced view of the Broncos newest quarterback. He's done some great things, and he has some weaknesses that are not minor issues. In the midst of all the laudatory arguments that seem to claim that the Broncos are now Super Bowl bound, I'd like to add some centrist reasoning. I'm hearing quite a few straw men arguments, and perhaps there's a middle road to be considered on that. 

I tend to read and research quite a bit. Contrary to a recent post, I've heard very few people claim that Tebow 'wasn't accurate' in college. It's extremely important for the chances of future success that a QB making the leap from the college to the pro level to have a minimum of a 60% completion rate in college. Tebow's was well over that, and I haven't hear much in the way of comments that differ on this. College and the NFL, however, are vastly different. I have heard the criticism that he has trouble with accuracy on certain throws. That will or won't be true at the NFL level with the new throwing motion that he is trying to develop - certainly, there is a great connection between Tebow and McDaniels, and TT's in the best spot that he could be in that sense. He'll get the best help that he can to work on all throws.

But to be fair - Tebow has tried once, unsuccessfully, to change his throwing motion. It's very diffferent issue to be able to use a motion in a practice setting and to use it with large angry men bearing down on you at high speed. The last time it was attempted, he wasn't able to use the new motion in game settings. What is in his favor is that he has a lot more time, in this case, to make the motion automatic. Muscle memory takes a lot of time to develop. Hopefully that will work out. I won't assume that it will, but I will hope that it does. 

I haven't heard many commentators complain about problems with his 'release'. When they did, they were using the term erroneously. The looping throwing motion he had takes too long for the NFL, in addition to leaving the ball out to be stripped, it takes too much time from receiving the snap to the ball leaving his hand. Most of the comments that I've read were referring to this amount of time - as a comparison, John Skelton holds the ball, takes a three step drop and throws the ball - in other words, releases it - in 1.55 seconds with over 90% accuracy. They have training systems now to work on that, with three circular targets about two feet in diameter, one of which will light up. The timer stops when the ball goes through that target. Skelton's time is very fast, and it's the kind of goal that Tebow will be working toward. The looping motion simply took too long - it also placed an unnecessary strain on the elbow and shoulder, which the new motion is meant to reduce. The old motion exposed him to unnecessary injury. 

TT's actual release - the action of having the ball leave the hand, starting with the pinkie finger and continuing to the index finger, with a snap of the wrist at the end, pronating the hand with the palm out and continuing the motion down and across the body, with the thumb ending up pointing at the left pocket is generally fine. When you throw the ball, exactly where you make the release is essential. Every QB has to learn a large number of release points - the release point is different for every throw, and these are memorized just as a surgeon learns a lot of different knots for diffferent situations in surgery. Each point in the release has to be performed at an appropriate 'launch velocity (sometimes called 'release velocity) - for Drew Brees, for example, this is an average of 52 mph, which really puts the ball on the target quickly. The launch angle - the angle between the ground and the forward tip of the football which minimized air drag and produces a tight spiral - is also something that Tebow will also need to work on, but it's not a terrible problem. His throws were more often good than bad.

I've also heard confusion around the word 'footwork'. TT's footwork in terms of catching the snap from the shotgun, positioning his body and making the throw is pretty much fine. What isn't, McD will clean up, but it's relatively minor. However, if you're talking about footwork in terms of receiving the snap, taking 1, 3, 5 and 7 step drops, keeping the feet positioned so that you are always in ballance to make the throw (this is an area where Peyton Manning is unsurpassed, and some of the quarterback 'gurus' such as Bob Johnson at Camp Quarterback have named a shuffling drill after him) will also require a lot of hard work. 

There are other issues - such as where and how, exactly, to grip the ball for maximum effectiveness. In the normal grip the ball should be gripped with the fingertips. The middle finger and thumb should form the letter C just below the cone of the ball and with the index finger almost parallel to the seams. The proper grip will permit the ball to come out quickly with a very compact throwing motion. Faster throwing motions mean less sacks, at least in theory. To establish proper rotation (spin) on the ball, the wrist will be snapped slightly at the moment of release. 

Not every quarterback will use the classic grip. For example, if you look back to photos of Terry Bradshaw when he was throwing for the Pattsburgh Steelers, he gripped the ball by spreading his hand widely and using his index finger over the far back tip of the ball in order to get better speed on his throws. Denver's own John Elway would grip the ball farther toward the back for the same reason. This increases launch velocity. Gripping the ball slightly toward the middle, as Kurt Warner did, will tend to increase the level of 'touch' that the QB can place on the ball. With the different motion, Tebow may need to also adjust the grip to get a fast motion (and again, this is where the word 'release is either used improperly or misunderstood) that gets the ball out, quickly, accurately and effectively. I'm not going to get into the angle of the elbow, shoulder, etc. - this post is long enough, but it should give you an idea of the complexity of this issue. Those on either side - those who blue-sky it all and claim that it's not of issue aren't being realistic - this is where many college stars fade. Those who claim that he can't do this are also being unrealistic - he's a good student and McD an excellent teacher. He may very well do fine, but it's not unreasonable to recognize that there are major challenges ahead. 

As far as the word 'system' - as in 'system QB' - at some point, people need to define terms. Yes, from one perspective, every QB works in a system and is therefore a system QB. That's fine, but it's also not very accurate and to be honest, I'm starting to feel like this is delibrate obfuscation. By casting doubt on the term, some folks are hoping to avoid dealing with Tebow's downside. When people point to the system TT came from, they are making a perfectly valid point with many an abject lesson - QBs who failed. The three things that are the best predictors, right now, of QB success or failure are: college completion rate, as we've covered, the number of college games they're played and won - 32 seems to be the magic number, according to multiple sources, and Tebow is fine there - and whether or not they come from a gadget offense. Tebow does come from a gadget offense. Even the 'pro-style' offenses in college aren't really NFL style, but many are much closer than the one TT is coming from. In other words, he's in good shape on two points and not so much on the third. 

The issue with that is that the QBs who come from offenses that use a substantial number of snaps under center is that those young men have years of practice at two important skills. The first is the type of footwork that comes from learning different drops, the routes associated with each and how to set up and make those throws. What I've put down here is a tiny fraction of the knowledge and skills that need to be mastered. The second thing that working under center teaches is how to read defenses from that angle. You get some knowledge from a shotgun-only system, but there is a lot more to the pro game and coming from a shotgun only system has, in the past, been one indicator that a QB will struggle in the NFL. 

Tebow has a good situation. He isn't being rushed into the starter's role, which has harmed the progress of many young QBs. He's on a team that has a great LT - this is important because the LT is protecting the weakside, no matter whether the QB is left or right handed, and lacking a good LT will make hamburger out of any QB. McDaniels has gone a long way toward establishing a good OL this offseason, and by the time TT does get on the field as a starter - and I'm assuming that he will - the line should be in good shape. That, too, has a substantial effect on young QBs. McDaniels has a pretty stellar reputation for working with QBs for such a young coach and that, too is in TT's favor. The two of them have an obvious connect that was establshed, from what both of them said, during the visit to Denver. That's great. 

But, both sides on this issue should consider stepping back and taking a deep breath. Tebow is a long, long way from winning a Super Bowl and he absolutely won't do it by himself. Look at how long it took Peyton Manning - who is perhaps the best QB in the history of the NFL. There are a lot of factors that go into a team's success or a QB's success, and TT has a lot of hard work in front of him. Pretending that this isn't a major challenge is both pointless and a bit foolish. Insisting that he'll fail is equally so. Right now, he's a 4th string QB who may have a bright future if a lot of things go right. I hope they do - I'm a Broncos fan. But I also try to be a realist, and Tim isn't a SB QB, an All-Pro QB or even a Pro Bowl QB, although that last one tends to be easier for anyone with good name recognition. Perhaps he will get there - he's in a good situation to do so. 

But, why not let the process play out before we anoint anyone? Right now, Kyle Orton has earned the starting spot. If his performance next season steps up as far as it did between 2008 and 2009, things could be quite different from what many are assuming now. If it doesn't, Quinn may see his chance - or, for that matter, the forgotten QB, Brandstater, could get his. Brandstater is an extremely intelligent player with more experience on under-center reads and footwork, with an extra year under McDaniels. It could also be Tebow, but he may require longer to develop. No matter which one of them is behind the center, I'll still be cheering for the team. That is, to me, a lot more important than any one player, Tim Tebow included.

Originally posted at MHR

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