ARLINGTON, Texas -- Let's get this out of the way first: I have nothing against Tim Tebow. He's a nice kid, has impeccable football character, and is one of the greatest college players of this generation.
I also don't quite understand why his supporters act as if criticizing his play is the rough equivalent to accusing him of going on a five-state killing spree.
On Thursday night, as I worked the sidelines for NFL Network, I sent out a simple tweet, following Tebow's first series, coming on the Broncos' second possession: "No way to sugarcoat it -- Tim Tebow looked totally lost on that series." The reaction was swift, hard-hitting and didn't end for another four or five hours.
--Unnamed NFL scout
And that's OK. But if you fall into the group pledging blind loyalty to the Broncos' second-year celebrity quarterback, you might want to stop reading now. Because if you talk to the football people who were paid to watch Thursday night's game with a discerning eye, the picture is pretty different than what his final numbers (6-of-7, 91 yards) might have painted.
One scout, charged with studying the Cowboys-Broncos game, texted that Tebow "looked like a No. 3." He went on to compare Tebow to Charles Barkley. Not Barkley the basketball player. Barkley the golfer. The scout explained, "[Noted golf teacher] Hank Haney couldn't help Chuck's swing. Hell, Johnny U couldn't help Tebow's throwing motion."
Obviously, Tebow's performance wasn't all bad. But the stats do deceive.
"He did have a lot of open guys on his big completions against the 2s and 3s," said another scout who studied his performance against the Cowboys. "You can't deny his ability to make plays with his athleticism and football grit. Essentially he is a stronger version of Vince Young. Young's success as a starter was tied more to a strong running game that allowed him to make throws against more eight-man boxes.
"Tebow needs to be surrounded by a strong running game and bigger receivers that can make contested catches, because of his lack of accuracy and anticipation, to have a chance of any consistent success in my opinion. His best fit is on a team with a Wildcat (coach) that takes advantage of his unique skill set. His SEC success leads me to believe the guy can compete on an NFL level, but more in a (specialized) role than as a starting QB."
He drove the team 66 yards for a field goal on his second possession. On another occasion, he had a touchdown run nullified, though he had an unsightly pick waved off by a flag, as well. In doing all this, he proved, again, he could make plays on his feet, could push the ball downfield (the 43-yarder to Matt Willis showing that) and is dangerous in the open field.
But the shortcomings were there, too. On one third-and-11 throw, he locked on Willis, staring him intensely. He was slow to set up and get rid of the ball -- part and parcel to that long release -- and was too quick to tuck and run. Our own Michael Lombardi recently wrote the leaders in the Denver organization
Now, that's not saying Tebow can't be successful. His game isn't a clinic on quarterbacking fundamentals, but it might not have to be. Ben Roethlisberger hardly makes it look pretty, but he finds a way. Maybe Tebow will to. History, though, says you shouldn't count on it. The consensus I got from scouts is that Brady Quinn actually had a better night, end-to-end, than Tebow did.
One thing's for sure -- if Tebow does fail, it won't be for lack of effort or determination. The fact remains he has a long way to go to get there, and there's no guarantee he'll make it. Remember, Tommie Frazier, Charlie Ward and Scott Frost were championship college quarterbacks too.