Defending Tebow … Thursday Morning Cup O’Chiefs

It was a fall weekend in Tuscaloosa, Alabama six years ago and after the Crimson Tide had dispatched Tennessee, sophomore defensive end Wallace Gilberry had more duties.

This was a recruiting weekend and there were a lot of prospective players in town. Gillberry was given the assignment of hosting a quarterback out of St. Augustine, Florida.

It was a fellow by the name of Tim Tebow.

“It was 7 o’clock at night and all he wanted to do was workout,” Gillberry remembered on Wednesday, after the Chiefs wrapped up their first day of preparations for Tebow and the Denver Broncos. “That’s the kind of guy he is. That’s his DNA.”

Gillberry couldn’t seal the deal for the Tide with Tebow.

“He was a Florida guy,” Gilberry said with a laugh. “I’d heard he had a (University of) Florida mailbox outside his house. We didn’t stand a chance with him.”

So six years later, here comes Tebow back on the radar for Gilberry. The guy who just wanted to workout has become the starting quarterback of the Broncos and last week he helped engineer a 14-point victory on the road against division rival Oakland. His presence in the starting lineup and his personality have combined to make him one of the most talked about stories in the NFL at mid-season.

And in team facilities around the NFL, coaching staffs and players are watching tape and trying to figure out how to prepare for Tebow and what he brings to the Denver offense, as a thrower and a runner.

“In the running game, when you have a quarterback that can run the ball the way that Tim does, it creates major issues for defenses,” head coach Todd Haley said. “Essentially, you can gain an extra offensive player, in the run game specifically. And when that player is your quarterback and can throw the football, it becomes now different than just some of the Wildcats and things we see. He, obviously, is a big, strong runner.”

Obviously. Through the first half of the 2011 season, Tebow has run for 277 yards on 38 carries. That includes last week’s 118 rushing yards on 12 carries against the Raiders last Sunday. Right now, Tebow is the No. 40 rusher in the league and No. 3 among quarterbacks, trailing only Philadelphia’s Michael Vick (456) and Carolina rookie Cam Newton (319).

Tebow has not been the starter for all eight games. In fact, this Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium will be just his fourth start this season. But he is 2-1 as a starter this season.

“I think Tebow is big, strong, tough,” said Haley. “His toughness is a quality that really makes him challenging because it affects so many things. He’s not afraid to take on tacklers when he needs to, which means he breaks tackles. He’s not afraid to stand in the face of pressure and hold the ball until the last possible second to make a big play, which you see on tape, and knowing that he’s going to be on his back when the play is over. So, that toughness is a great challenge because it carries him through in all areas.”

In watching tape this week, ILB Derrick Johnson saw some plays he’s never seen from another quarterback.

“He’s out there running around and he’s throwing off defensive linemen and guys that weigh 250, 260 pounds,” Johnson said. “He’s not looking to run, he’s just trying to get away and stay alive to throw the ball and he’s taking these hits and he just bounces off. I’ve never seen a quarterback as big and strong as him.”

No one has ever doubted Tebow’s athletic ability. But his ability to throw the football has been dissected by seemingly every expert in the game of football, including those that really do know something about the game. Through this season, he’s thrown six TD passes to a single interception. He’s completing 46.4 percent of his passes for an average of 5.5 yards per attempt. He’s been sacked 15 times.

His passer rating after 97 attempts is 80.1. That’s hardly a league leader, but it’s significantly better than more than a dozen starting quarterbacks in the league.

But running is what Tebow does best and the Broncos have installed a read-option running game that they will use. It’s something that is seldom seen in the NFL, but is a big part of college football. It takes advantage of Tebow’s mobility and presents a headache for defenses that have to essentially prepare for two different offenses when getting ready for the Broncos.

“I think it’s a great challenge,” said Haley. “You’ve got the quarterback running the option, which then makes it a triple threat. The running back is running, him running or throwing the football, so I think it’s going to be a great challenge. We have a plan and you need to have a plan for the plan, and then we need to make sure we go out and execute and do it the way we need to do it.”

The option has never caught on in pro football for two reasons – defensive speed and the quarterback gets hit a lot. It’s an oddity that over the years has been tried and discarded by teams like the Bears with former Kansas QB Bobby Douglass and even the Atlanta Falcons with a young Michael Vick.

Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is very good at taking complicated issues for his unit and boiling everything down to the basics. But when you keep things simple for the defense, it forces them to be nearly perfect. They cannot make mistakes or stumble on missed assignments.

“You have to be disciplined,” said Johnson. “You have to be where you are supposed to be. You can’t be out there guessing. You have to fill your gap and take on all comers.”

As he’s watched the tape this week, there isn’t anything Tebow has done that surprised Gilberry.

“I played against him a lot in the SEC,” Gillberry said. “He’s the same guy. Nothing fails to amaze me with him. Some label him a quarterback, others a running back. He’s an athlete and a winner. A guy like that is very dangerous.”

One Response to “Defending Tebow … Thursday Morning Cup O’Chiefs”

  • November 10, 2011  - the other dave says:

    Can’t wait.

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