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Jockbeat: Lord Help Tim Tebow

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Florida’s Tim Tebow is the best college quarterback I’ve ever seen.  Not the best looking, the smoothest or the most classic, but the best, as in the one I want to quarterback for my team in the big game.

His performance in Thursday night’s 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the BCS national championship game was uglier than Mickey Rourke the morning after St. Patrick’s Day – he threw two interceptions in one game for the first time in his entire career and on several occasions stood in the pocket gazing at the Oklahoma defensive pass coverages looking as baffled as Sarah Palin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All of this mattered not at all when the game was on the line.  As he
has done throughout his career at Florida, which now includes a second
national championship ring, on the big third down plays Tebow simply
forced the ball – as if through sheer will power – into the hands of
the right receiver or ran it himself right into and over the outmatched
Sooner defensive backs and safeties.  

That Tebow, the year
after winning the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore, finished third in this
year’s voting proves that the nation’s football writers have no more
idea of what “the Outstanding College Football Player in the Nation” is
supposed to be than they did 30 or 40 years ago.  Oklahoma’s Sam
Bradford, the latest on the list of soon-to-be forgotten
Heisman-winning quarterbacks – in this decade alone, we’ve had Florida
State’s Chris Weinke (2000), Oklahoma’s Jason White (2003), and Ohio
State’s Troy Smith (2006) – benefited from a soft schedule in which he
faced only two defenses all season long that were ranked as high as 37.

Tebow played against 9 of the 37 best defenses and didn’t pile
on the numbers against anybody, which makes his statistics meaningful.
(Texas’s Colt McCoy, who finished second ahead of Tebow in the voting,
didn’t face one of the nation’s top 50 defenses all year.)

Why
didn’t Tim T. win his second straight Heisman Trophy when it was so
obvious that he was the most qualified candidate? I think there are
three reasons. First, I think most football writers, particularly those
in the eastern media, are put off by his constant blather about how the
Lord helped him do it all. (I am, too, though I’d rather hear someone
credit Jesus than his football coach.)  The second is probably that he
is so good and so obvious a front runner for next year’s trophy that
many think it’s unfair that any player win three straight and the
wealth (if our president-elect and advocate for a college playoff
system will permit me) needs to be spread around.

There is
also, I think, a third reason: most writers recognize quarterbacking
talent only when it comes in NFL-style pocket passers, and judged by
that standard, Tebow doesn’t look like he’s going to be a great
professional player. Like former Texas great Vince Young, who led Texas
to the 2005 national championship and is currently languishing on the
Tennessee Titans’ bench in favor of career mediocrity Kerry Collins,
Tebow relies too much on his own sheer talent and has not developed an
ability to decipher and out-think opposing defenses.

Tebow has
often been described as “a fullback who can throw,” but in modern
college football, fullbacks don’t run the ball very often, and in
truth, at 6-4 and 235, he runs more like a very big tailback – on
third-and-four he’s far more likely to carry the ball himself than any
other Florida runner. But you just can’t make a living doing this in
the NFL – there’s too many linebackers willing to trade a 15-yard
personal foul penalty for a chance to take out your knees.

The
Tim Tebow of 1999 was quarterback Donovan McNabb, who, in his second
life, is on the verge of becoming a great NFL quarterback. In his last
year at Syracuse, many, including myself, thought he was the best
player in college football and certainly the best athlete, and though
he’s had several successful seasons – the Eagles record in games he has
started is 73-39, with a 7-5 postseason record a trip to the 2005 Super
Bowl – he’s gotten as many boos as cheers from temperamental
Philadelphia fans, who have never been able to decide whether he should
have running or passing more.   

In his first five years in
Philadelphia, McNabb average about 450 yards rushing per season and ran
for 17 touchdowns. His passing stats during those years were good but
not great. It wasn’t until 2004, when he stopped carrying the ball so
much (a career-low 41 times) that he became a great passer with 31 TD
passes against just 8 interceptions and a career-high 8.3 yards per
throw.  Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the only year he had a
great wideout, Terrell Owens, to throw the ball to. This season,
through the first 11 games, McNabb was mediocre, throwing 400 passes,
completing 58.7 percent of them with 14 TDs and 10 interceptions. 
After being benched by coach Andy Reid after a terrible performance 
against the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 23, McNabb has rebounded in
spectacular fashion, wining five out of six games, completing 65
percent of his passes with 10 TDs against only two interceptions. The
primary reason is that, at age 32, he’s finally learned to use his
extraordinary mobility to give his receivers time to break free instead
of running the ball himself.

Here’s a scary statistic which
Giants fans should ponder before Sunday afternoons game:  in two games
this year, New York, with one of the best pass rushes in the league,
have not sacked McNabb a single time. In fact, when the Eagles best the
Giants 20-24 on December 7 at the Meadowlands, the Giants defensive
front four didn’t hit McNabb all afternoon, and when they blitzed,
McNabb burned them with a TD pass to slippery running back Brian
Westbrook.  If that pattern continues to hold up this week, the Giants
are likely to see their season go down in flames no matter what Eli
Manning does.

Like Tim Tebow, Donovan McNabb was 6-4 and weighed
over 230 pounds when left college, all the better to bowl over a
200-pound defensive back. He has now slimmed down to a svelte 212. That
doesn’t mean that he won’t take on that defensive back if the occasion
demands, but he’s much more likely to stop short of the line of
scrimmage and give his receiver a chance to break free, as Antonio
Peirce and the other New York linebackers found out last month.  

Tebow
would do well to watch McNabb play and study his transformation from a
great athlete into a good quarterback.  It could mean the difference
between a career in the NFL and one selling insurance in Florida.

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