Tebow starts his NFL career in his hometown

DENVER -- Tim Tebow will begin his rookie season Sunday in his hometown, Jacksonville, Fla. -- holding a clipboard.

All those fans who have made No. 15 the NFL's best-selling jersey want to know just how far the Denver Broncos' rookie quarterback has come under the tutelage of Josh McDaniels, the coach who rolled the dice six months ago and selected the Heisman-winning Florida star in the first round of the NFL draft.

Despite the doubts -- about his delivery, his release, how far his gritty running will get him in the NFL.

Tune in Sunday to find out if McDaniels made the right call. Or, at least, to see if that's when the answers will start to come.

McDaniels isn't saying whether Tebow will make his debut against the Jaguars, suggesting the competition with Brady Quinn to serve as Kyle Orton's primary backup is ongoing.

Although Tebow didn't show enough polish in the preseason to unseat Orton, he seemingly showed enough flash to earn the No. 2 job over Quinn.

Although the depth chart lists Quinn as the backup, McDaniels acknowledges that doesn't mean anything. Asked point-blank this week who his No. 2 quarterback was, McDaniels smiled and said the decision would be based as much on the game plan as on Quinn's and Tebow's performances at practice during the week.

"There's a lot of factors that will go into that," McDaniels said.

And playing in Tebow's hometown apparently won't be one of them.

"I'll be happy for him," if Tebow wins the job, McDaniels said. "He'll probably ask for more tickets."

While Tebow was learning from his mistakes and nursing bruised ribs, the result of the first hard hit he sustained as a professional, Orton was playing so well during camp that he won a contract extension through 2011 that gives the Broncos' brain trust more time to formulate the team's long-term plans at quarterback.

It also takes the pressure off Tebow, who can ease into his NFL transition while refining his mechanics, motion and moxie.

Tebow nonetheless figures to get plenty of snaps this season in special situations to take advantage of the talents that made him a two-time national champion with the Gators.

Tebow has spent six months refining his game in the face of bigger, faster and quicker defenders, but if he thinks he'll play Sunday, he isn't saying.

"That's the coaches' decision," Tebow said. "I'm just trying to do what I'm told."

Even if he spends all afternoon on the sideline, Tebow said Sunday will be special.

"It's very ironic," he said of opening his career in Jacksonville. "It's also very exciting and something that will be very memorable for me."

The Jaguars are expecting plenty of fans to be cheering for their hometown hero as much as their hometown team.

"It's his town, man," said Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew. "And right on. It's going to be exciting for him. Probably everybody is going to try to be at the hotel and see him. Word around here flies around fast where everybody is staying. My advice to him is to get into a private room and stay in there the whole night."

Tebow's return to Florida is a boon to Jacksonville, where sellouts at EverBank Field aren't a given.

"It's helping us out a bunch," Jones-Drew said. "It's selling out our stadium that he's coming in."

That's the kind of shot in the arm that fans in Florida were hoping they'd get for years to come by drafting Tebow, but the Jaguars had other needs and passed. McDaniels grabbed him instead with the 25th overall pick.

"It's nice to have support from people anywhere, so I'm thankful that they did want me," Tebow said. "But I'm happy to be here and be a Bronco."

Nobody is a bigger believer in Tebow's transition than McDaniels, who tutored Tom Brady and Matt Cassel in New England and helped Orton to the best statistical season of his career last season after acquiring him from Chicago for Jay Cutler.

Although some call him the greatest college quarterback ever to play, Tebow is an NFL enigma, a big question mark because of his throwing mechanics and footwork -- and the spread offense he ran out of the shotgun with the Gators.

His detractors say he won't measure up, but Tebow's supporters suggest his athleticism, work ethic and pedigree will translate into success at this level, too.

Even McDaniels has said it's unrealistic to put a timetable on Tebow's transformation from combination college quarterback to pro passer.

"I'm not going to use the word 'satisfied,' but he's definitely come along," McDaniels said Wednesday.

No rookie, no matter what the position, will be "100 percent" ready their first season in the NFL, and so "we didn't really try to do that," with Tebow, the coach said. "I think the things that we asked him to do in the preseason, he executed them better as the preseason went on. He did some good things; he made some mistakes."

McDaniels praised Tebow's grasp of the offense even as his execution lagged at times.

"I think overall he made some strides. I'm very happy with what he knows in terms of our offense," McDaniels said. "The biggest thing is that we understand what he's ready to do and what he's not."

Orton has a stranglehold on the starting job, but Hall of Famer John Elway said he believes the Broncos will find ways to get Tebow on the field.

"I'm sure they're going to take advantage of what he does in the shotgun, especially in third-down situations with the run-pass option that you have with a guy like Tim," said Elway, who attended some practices during training camp at McDaniels' invitation. "He throws the ball so well on the move and has the chance for the big play."

Orton said he's not concerned about giving way to Tebow for a snap here or there.

"I guess I haven't really spent too much time thinking about it," Orton said. "I stay in a rhythm. You know, we did some stuff last year with me split out and all types of good stuff, and I really didn't feel like it affected my rhythm at all. And I'm not really concerned about it."

Tebow swears he's not concerned about who's the No. 2 quarterback, either.

"My goal right now is just to do whatever I can do to help the team win," he said. "And if that's in practice, being a great scout-team quarterback, then that's what I'm going to try to do."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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