Was Tim Tebow drafted to sit on the bench?

One of the many things that fans are talking about, complaining about, praising and espousing right now is the talk about how Tim Tebow was NOT drafted to sit on the bench. For the upcoming season, it's entirely possible that it will prove to be exactly what he was drafted to do - at least on Sundays, for the moment. During the season, he'll get to train, practice and learn, things that he adores and that will give him a chance to eventually be a a solid, perhaps even elite NFL QB. But it isn't now, and he isn't close to ready. Therefore, sitting on the bench, unless there's an injury, is exactly what he'll get to do. There are good reasons for that, too.

Here are a couple of things on Orton from this past week or so:

Aug 11, Kirk Davis

Tim Tebow throws a pass into Alric Arnett's back. Kyle Orton hooks up with Willis for a touchdown. Orton throws a fade to Brandon Lloyd for a touchdown. Orton throws to Eddie Royal for a touchdown.

DenverBroncos.com 8/10/10:

During one quick 11-on-11 segment, Orton showcased why he's so excited about his progress in the offense. On one play, he lofted a deep ball to Eddie Royal, which the receiver pulled down between Dawkins and Nate Jones. On the very next rep, he hit Daniel Graham down the middle, fitting the ball just out of Akin Ayodele's reach. That play earned a congratulatory pat from Head Coach Josh McDaniels. Orton closed the crisp period by finding Gaffney wide-open down the sideline

From Albuquerque on 8/9/10

4. All three QBs looked good but it was kind of hard to judge because some of the completions would have been sacks. Orton does look like the leader of the O and walks around with a quite confidence. He puts the ball where only the receiver can get it and throws the most catchable ball of the 3.

From littletinybroncos on 8/8/10:

I just wanted to share this with you while I was organizing my thoughts on Friday morning's full pads practice and scrimmage.

QB: Had a chance to observe Kyle close up and get an autograph. Orton looks very in control. He gets rid of the ball, he looks buff, and he exudes serenity - like the kid in the song "All Kinds of Time" by Fountains of Wayne. If you don't know that song, give it a listen, it's neat. Be ready to see exactly what Orton can be barring broken throwing fingers, etc, so long as the pass protection is average or better.

Denver Post 6/14/10:

Orton, whose strength is making quick, intelligent decisions, and throwing accurately short, is among the league's most efficient throwers in the red zone with 39 touchdown passes against just three interceptions.

Note, 8/2 -

Set after set of notes out of training camp listed Orton as being the best QB on the field. There is no doubt that this is his team, and his arm strength was shown and even, surprisingly, repeatedly praised.

Orton exudes confidence, but there is a quiet, low-key, even blase element to his personality that served him well during the Broncos' offseason workouts this spring. While Quinn and Tebow brought an All-America-type celebrity to team headquarters, Orton effectively went about his business without uttering a controversial word. Orton insists he's not bothered by the new competition for his job, either.

"I think you get it wherever you're at," he said. "There's maybe three or four guys around the league that are Hall of Fame quarterbacks and it's their franchise. But from there on out, you have to earn your play every single game, every single week. And I'm fine with that."

It might be a long way to go around to it, but I'm going to be curious about how many people can read these (and there is a rest of the list I won't bother people with, but it's long) and tell me again about how you start a rookie who doesn't even have a grasp of the offense. That's no insult to TT - it's a huge playbook, he's got a lot of mechanical problems to work out, and he's a rookie, starting to learn a new game from the video-football that was his college game at this point. And, if TT never starts, as much as it would shock some people, that, too, can happen. No matter how skilled at one thing, no one is skilled at them all, even if they're related fields. But, what's really at the heart of the 'conflict'? Tebow is very charismatic, but that doesn't throw a football. He may do nice things with his off-field time, but that doesn't change the flight of the football either. He might get there in football. I hope that he does, but he obviously hasn't yet. He's even not close - and that was to be expected. Or, at least, it should have been. So, why was there so much pressure to get TT into the games starting next month?

I think that there are really two separate issues here.


A lot of people have (or have never had) little or no faith in Orton, so every alternative is the perfect solution to this 'problem'. If you believe there to be a problem, you'll work to correct it. If you don't see one, you rarely bother. In this, Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders jumped on a potential problem - Not only is Orton the best QB at this time, at the end of the season Denver had Chris Simms, who became a problem, Tom Brandstater, who is clearly a project, and Kyle Orton. If Orton went down, Denver was down to the dilemma between Simms and Brandstater, and the opinion of the coaches was the Brandstater wasn't ready. According to some fans, Simms was going to be that solution (that worked out well...). Some even cried out for Brandstater. But Simms was released, Brady Quinn was taken to to replace him (and, so far, for very little else, although that could change over time) and Tim Tebow was brought on for the potential that McDaniels sees in him. Tebow is clearly a project at this time - he's still throwing with a towel rolled up under his right arm. He's anything but ready, and Orton is playing his best pro ball. It starts mattering when the season starts, but i don't hate reading good things, either. And, Kirk Davis just reports it - he doesn't sugar coat or spin it. That's one of many reasons that I like his stuff.

Beyond making the changes to get an experienced 2nd string QB who costs much less than Simms did and putting a third string project in place, the possibility that there is no other QB problem eludes most of those folks. If you look at the jump in his numbers after getting 4 months of coaching from McD and McC, it's hard to argue that there's no room for more improvement. During an offseason in which Orton rested, healed, then got together with his WRs and threw a lot of balls, getting used to each other (Bill Walsh used to help his QB and WRs 'cheat' the then-current rules that forbade excessive practicing. The QB wanted to, the WRS wanted to, and Walsh wasn't going to let little things like league rules get in the way). Time and practice with the QB and WRs ares essential to moving the chains. If your perspective is that Orton 'can't' improve further, there's nothing to debate. Accept that both sides see something vastly different and move on. And, if you're a bit of a nebbish, remind your debating partner that this conversation was had before about a year ago, and Orton is still the best QB Denver has.

Orton, through no fault of his own, has become a bit of a lightning rod. Happily, his coach really doesn't care, doesn't read the media and doesn't worry about how the fans feel about this player vs. that. McD obviously likes Tebow a lot, and that means only that Tim will get a legitimate chance to compete for the starting slot. It doesn't mean that he's going to win it. Kyle Orton has come to camp in his usual style - cheerful, laid-back in degree, working as hard as ever. And playing better than he ever has as a pro.

Orton does look like the leader of the O and walks around with a quite (sic) confidence. He puts the ball where only the receiver can get it and throws the most catchable ball of the 3. (littletinybroncos, Aug 8, 2010)

This was one of the legit complaints on Orton last year. At least in some degree, there was truth to it: he wasn't in touch with his receivers, nor they with him. It created problems. Part of that was simply a complete lack of timing between the QB and WRs from a lack of practice. It usually takes more than most fans are aware to get it right. It was a new system with new players and different terminology. Part of it was other things - we now know that he was walking and running on one bad hoof during the whole season. For the second half of the season, that was two bad hooves, and the leftover pain (let's not try to pretend there never was any - there was) of a throwing with a recently broken forefinger on his throwing hand. Now that he's had a chance to throw with his receivers, heal, work more on the playbook (you're never done studying it, as any top QB will tell you) and come in knowing most of his guys and being without question the #1 QB on the team, and it shows. And, Orton and the WRs were learning an entirely new system. Now, it's not about thinking, but playing football.

Oh, and the poor arm strength myth? If it needed doing (that story had more lives than a room full of cats and has been harder to put down than an armored vampire), John Bena put that one to rest very nicely on his few days in camp and John's been just one in a long line of people pointing that out this summer. Orton's arm strength is just fine, and nearly everyone who has seen it close up has said the same. You can't make people believe things just because they are true, but it's a fine place to start.


The idea that Tim Tebow will come in and save the team from Kyle Orton is only part of it. The other part is that many people believed so fervently that Tebow would be successful, he must be successful, and are so wrapped up in needing this to be true that they brook no interference to him starting, starting now, and feel strongly that this is the best alternative that Denver now faces. By losing games in 2010, many fans believe that the team will win more in 2011 or 12. It's a siren song to those who are now reaching for a lifeline for their beliefs, for like many theories over the ages, this one is smashing up on the shoals around TT Island, and the ships are shattering from the pounding. The league starts in just over 30 days, and those who cried the loudest for him to start are having to content themselves with new theories about how he'll run the Wild Horses and the red zone.

Let's face it - there is a major division in the fan base regarding this. There are those who want Tebow, and want him even if it costs Denver games (and have said so). They want him even if he's unready, uncertain of his full playbook, unprepared in his motion (hence the towel still rolled up under his right armpit, which I don't think that they will let you use in games), unused to his receivers and just plain not prepared to be an NFL QB. Several such fans have said that they'd be happy losing more games if it means getting Tebow in earlier. Most of us want our team to win, but this is such a powerful schism that many people believe that by losing more games now, somehow, and the specifics are a little vague he (and Denver) will win later. It's an enticing theory for those people who really want to see TT starting at any cost. Again, happily to most of us, the coach doesn't 'roll(out)' that way.

The advantage of the Wild Horses is that Orton gets a look at the defense and then can make the call to take advantage of it. The advantage of Tebow running it is that mostly he's large for a QB. It's not much of an advantage, but it's all that some fans have left. If TT is in for the WH plays, you lose the advantage of Orton's freedom in play calling. If you're going to use TT as a running back, you've spent multiple picks for a running back who can throw - sometimes. I saw one bizarre theory that TT should lead the blocking (you want him to eventually be the #1 QB but he should lead the guys who slam into people much bigger than Tebow?). It's not hard to see why fans from other clubs find this set of theories absurd. If that's to be all that there is, it would be. But that's not the goal. The goal, from this group, is to push Tebow into the lineup, and quickly the starting lineup, at any cost.

How about the red zone? That is another recommended 'use' for Tim. Denver did, no question, have trouble in the red zone over the past year. While Orton, however, had trouble last year, in 2008, with multiple injuries, he had a QB rating of 101.8 in the red zone in Chicago, with no better players but an established system. Now, Orton has that continuity of system, and putting in a rookie QB with all the rookie problems has the advantage of....what? Nothing at all, really. You're pulling a QB who has broken 100 in the red zone QB rating. But it gets TT on the field, and when you come right down to it, that's the whole point. Because after all, why did you draft a QB if he's going to sit on the bench?

And that question, thankfully, is easier to answer than most. Because he's going to sit on the bench and should sit on the bench until he masters his basics, like any other QB. Until his throwing motion improves to the point that both McCoy and McD feel that it's ready (sans towel). Until he can be an effective pocket passer, just like the head coach said. Until he can beat out Orton, which is turning out to be more difficult than many fans would have believed. It wasn't long ago that QBs sat for up to 5 years as a matter of course. That's changed, of course, and I think that it should have, but having TT sit until he learns the game isn't punishment and it isn't prejudice against the player. It's the best way to develop, improve and mold an NFL rookie (ANY rookie who finds himself in this situation - this isn't about one personality) who was, by many observers' standards, a project. They seem to be right, although he seems to be getting there.

Yes, there is also a list of those who felt that he wasn't a project at all, and in that part at least, they are turning out to be flatly wrong. TT is a project, but he's also one that seems to be on track, even if that track is a little slower than some would have it. At a later point in that project, he may win a lot of games - he's on the Broncos, and I hope that he does. But that project is on a more realistic track than the one that fans and pundits recently called for, and that means he's currently unready to play. I watched an interview, predraft, with McDaniels, and one of the things that he commented on is that 'pro style' in a college offense isn't really completely 'pro' style.

It's not that there aren't advantages to certain aspects of those offenses - learning footwork, and getting 3-4 years of extra practice in it, for example, is clearly beneficial, as is learning to understand seeing the defenses from under center and learning which routes break when from that perspective. But all of the players that come out of college in the QB position are missing some things that the coach has the responsibility to provide in terms of training and molding the player. McD pointed out that the coach has to go into such situations with a plan - sometimes a longer term plan (at which point, it seemed likely that he was talking about Tebow) - and has to have the patience to execute that plan. Happily, Josh McDaniels is the kind of coach who makes a plan and sticks to it as much as makes sense. Right now, that means that Tebow will ride the bench, will have to wait his turn, and will have to beat out a starting QB to get his slot.

Welcome to the NFL. Nobody comes in fresh and raw and is given anything. Some rare players start immediately and learn on the run, but they are rare. You create your own job, and you also have to hold on to it.

The coup de grace argument for many who join in this debate is this - if they didn't draft Tebow to play him, why haven't they paid Orton starting money? It's not a bad question - in this debate, it's probably the strongest argument, for what that's worth. But, let's start at the beginning? Why would you pay Orton starting money? There are players all over the league who are complaining and not getting their money. If Orton's the second best QB on Denver next year, why did you lock him in with the CBA in tatters and a a grand opportunity to save a lot of money comes along? It might happen that Orton is the 2nd best - Orton improved substantially over the offseason, and that was to be expected. Tebow might do the same next offseason. He might even overtake Orton. There is an equal chance that he won't, and Orton will be the best QB on the Broncos - we can't know yet. The lack of a CBA has given the NFL a 'mulligan' year. They get to ignore quite a few players who were up for larger contracts. They may be hoping that the new contract will be more 'owner friendly' and that they can work out a better one next offseason. It's a reasonable hope - the NFL owners seem, from what I'm seeing, to hold most of the better cards in the game. So, the question can be reversed - you've got a great year with no CBA and you don't need to pay him. You don't know what contracts will look like, so you don't have to give him one. Why pay him? It's not a reason to believe that Tebow will start next year. It's an opportunity for Tebow to compete, but at this point, there's nothing more.


Colinski made a nice article comment that sums up much of the issue. He said,

I get mildly annoyed when I read things like - we didn't draft Tebow to sit on the bench. The rationale for adding to our QB position seems to one of the most poorly understood strategies coming out of the last draft. The point of building the QB position would seem to be unassailable - it's an important position.

My complaint about the comments on the QB subject is that there's a tendency to see the draft decision in discrete or clean outcomes. All I'm saying here is that situations are often messy and the strategy for dealing with messiness can be messy itself. Tebow doesn't "have" to become a starter at any particular point but we hope he will. And similar things could be said for Orton and Quinn.

It's not a question of what the coaching staff planned when they acquired Quinn and Tebow. Contingency planning is what you do to address possible situations, and these are not necessarily situations that we believe will occur. But that's the point. They can't anticipate every situation. And so the solution is an attempt to bridge a number of possibilities and let the players themselves solve the problem through their play.

I like the idea of letting the players solve the problem through their play. As the HC said, everyone makes their own role on this team. I hope that he was telling the truth. Tebow hasn't defined his yet, but we'll get to see his work on achieving that. All the best to them all.

Originally posted at MHR

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