I know I’m a little late on my take on the Denver quarterback “controversy” but I had a few technical difficulties. Last week, I asked the Denver quarterback to toss me the newspaper from off the driveway. He picked it up and cocked back but didn’t complete his release until Sunday and the Denver Post fluttered in the air through Monday. It landed in the bushes. You can probably deduce that the bad joke was in gest but it does hold a grain of truth.

Whether he’s throwing you the morning paper or a ball at Brandon Lloyd’s feet, it’s not hard to see why Denver is wavering on his future as a Broncos starting quarterback. In his rookie season, Tebow threw for 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in limited action but only completed 50% of his passes, which would be great for a designated hitter but in the NFL its the equivalent of a pitching prospect throwing 4 balls for every strike.  In his third start against San Diego, Tebow threw for 300 yards–but he also completed just 44% of his attempts.

Still that hasn’t stopped legions of Denver fans from pulling for Tebow to be the Broncos Week 1 starter. Conversely, chants of “We Want Orton” have been ringing from crowds all month in Miami. Early June was the last time, WWE superstar Randy Orton appeared on Monday Night Raw in Miami. Invariably, that means the chants aren’t for him. This time, the cheers are for a less likely Orton–Kyle Orton. Ironically, if there was an NFL quarterback who seems like he could make a living as a wrestling personality, it’s the man his organization has been grooming to replace him–Tim Tebow.

The melodrama of the 2011 NFL pre-season is taking place in public view from near the thin mountain air of Denver to the sandy white beaches of Miami. One week ago, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Kyle Orton would eventually be traded to Miami and clear the path for Tim Tebow to become the Broncos undisputed starting quarterback. However, the white smoke that was meant to signal the beginning of the Tebow era has been delayed indefinitely.

In an odd twist of events, not only is Orton still donning the Bronco logo on his helmet but he’s reportedly tightened his grip on the starter’s job. Conversely, Dolphins starter Chad Henne heard boos and chants of “We Want Orton” from Dolphins fans. You can’t blame former supporters of the House of Marino for settling on Orton as the target of their desires. Chad Henne is among the least  effective quarterbacks in the NFL.  The Dolphins only acquisition to shore up the quarterback position was to sign Matt Moore, arguable the worst starting quarterback last season.

So here’s the rundown. The Denver Broncos have Orton on the trading block, Denver fans love Tebow, Miami Dolphins fans pine for Orton but the Dolphins front office won’t sacrifice a fist round pick to acquire him, because Denver’s front office isn’t as sold on Tebow as much as it’s fans. Telemundo will never conceive a soap opera this confusing.

The trajectory of Kyle Orton’s career has had a long and strange arc. Five years ago in Chicago, fans pleaded for Rex Grossman’s speedy recovery from a pre-season injury despite rookie 4th round pick Kyle Orton’s 10-5 record. While Bears fans appreciated Orton’s game management, the offense had become painfully predictable and lacked an explosive element.

Miami fans want the other, less charismatic Orton

By the 2005 season’s conclusion, Orton’s 59.7 quarterback rating was the worst in the NFL.

Flashforward 6 years later and fans on South Beach are now crying out for Kyle Orton to wash up on their shore.

So what changed for Orton? At some point, while the schizophrenic Rex Grossman was staking his claim as the NFL’s worst signal caller, Kyle Orton became a quality starting quarterback.

In his first three seasons, Orton completed 51.6% of his attempts as a rookie, 53.8% and 58.5% in his third season in Chicago.

The next season he was traded to Denver for Pro-Bowler Jay Cutler. Since the trade, Orton has progressively improved and in two years has performed equally to Jay Cutler’s 2 seasons in Chicago.

In two years Orton has complete roughly 60% of his attempts, thrown for 41 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Cutler’s thrown for 50 touchdowns, 32 interceptions and has a 60% completion percentage as the Bears signal caller. While Culter’s thrown for more yards and touchdowns in two more games than his Denver counterpart, Orton has thrown for more yards and has won the touchdown to interception ratio battle in three fewer games.

However, the entire context of the conversation around Tebow and Orton changed when ESPN analyst Merril Hoge presented his unvarnished opinion of Tebow’s passing abilities on Twitter.

 

Hoge’s tweets changed the entire conversation about Tebow. Instead of revolving around whether Tebow should start over Orton right now, it became a debate about whether Tebow could ever start in the NFL.

Tebow’s been doubted before, however, this time the circumstances are different. He’s no longer a star recruit. Today, he’s a backup quarterback with a low grade in the eyes of scouts, working with new throwing mechanics and playing for a coaching staff that did not draft him.

As much as I respect Merril Hoge’s analysis, his accuracy on quarterback’s success is about as accurate as Tebow’s 2010 completion percentage. Merril Hoge is a great analyst but also has strong opinions and has never found a middle ground he could balance on. The first time he read Goldilocks and The Three Bears, he probably tore it to shreds in a tantrum after Goldilocks skipped the extremely hot and cold bowls of pouridge.

Hoge had similar thoughts about Vince Young in 2006 and 2008, which have proven to be correct thus far but in the same breath had an extremely negative opinion about Aaron Rodgers’ development. But this isn’t about Hoge’s abilities as an analyst. Other analysts were low on Rodgers as recently as 2008.

Almost immediately after the Packers selected Brian Brohm in the 3rd round of the ’08 Draft, Todd McShay predicted Brohm would be the Green Bay Packer starter over Aaron Rodgers in two years because of his immense upside. Merril Hoge also found Rodgers’ lack of anticipant disturbing. Like I said, Hoge teeters on extremes, which is great for Twitter(I suggest you follow him) but misleading for analysis.

Most of the coaches I’ve ever had dispensed the same advice about off-season workouts. For the most part, we were advised to avoid playing pickup games excessively and advised to spend the majority of our time in the gym alone, honing our skills and weaknesses. The reasoning was that pickup and rec leagues developed bad habits and took time away from improving or creating better habits.

A similar philosophy applies to NFL quarterbacks and Tim Tebow in particular. Tebow spent early 2010 revamping his throwing motion in time for the NFL Combine and rookie season but reverted back to his slow wind up release under pressure. One year isn’t enough time for an overhaul of a quarterbacks throwing style. It’s akin to asking a comedian to write the script for a Stephen King novel in a month. Tebow should be holding a clipboard and headset on game days while ingraining his quicker release into muscle memory, improving his accuracy and learning to read NFL defenses more naturally.

In the past decade, Romo, Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, Marc Bulger, Jake Delhomme and Phillip Rivers matured on the sideline and with practice reps before getting thrown into the fire. Tebow is neither a pure passer or a top ten pick.

When he was drafted I believed Tebow shared similarities to David Garrard but received Peyton Manning-like hype. The Jaguars starting quarterback played sparingly as a developmental quarterback for five seasons behind Byron Leftwich who had a similarly slow release to Tebow, but without a semblance of Tebow’s mobility. Tim Tebow isn’t ready for  primetime but it doesn’t mean he’ll never be.

In fact, if you listen to Hoge’s elaborating he makes the point that Tebow may just have to sit for a few years before he’s game ready.

Quarterback Rich Gannon, who jumped to Tebow’s defense had a similar blend of size and mobility but had a peculiar career arc. After sitting for two years in Minnesota, Gannon had a rough three years as Vikings starter, bounced around the league for a few seasons beforehaving an MVP caliber career surge in the twilight of his career with Oakland.

The point is that there’s no contract stipulation which guarantees Tebow, or any quarterback the starting job in their second season. For now, Orton should remain the Broncos starter for at least one more season when it will be time again for the Broncos to re-evaluate Tebow’s development. Conversely, the Dolphins should embrace Henne rather than cough up a first rounder for Orton. Especially, when the Dolphins are so bad their eventual first round pick could be  Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

Tebow can learn just as much about being an NFL quarterback by backing up Kyle Orton as he did about being a college quarterback by holding Chris Leak’s clipboard. If Tebow ever gets discouraged about becoming a starter in the NFL one day, all he has to do is look at the career of the guy ahead of him on the depth chart. Kyle Orton.

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