- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DENVER — Almost every hour of the day is Tebow Time in Denver.

With quarterback Tim Tebow rejuvenating the Broncos, stores are full of No. 15 jerseys that are even more prominent on the streets. Fans are holding signs with the slogan “Believe” and chanting his name like he’s a cult hero.

Football fans believe in Tebow, who has gone 7-2 as a starter, but the debate is ongoing when it comes to his abilities as an NFL quarterback.

“From a textbook mechanic standpoint, if you’re going to combine footwork, throwing motion and accuracy with the other starting quarterbacks, he would no doubt be right around the very bottom,” ESPN analyst and former Redskins quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said. “As strictly a passer, he’s not in the same category as other starting quarterbacks in the National Football League, there’s no question about it.”

Tebow’s 48.6 completion percentage makes that clear, and it’s part of the reason he wasn’t considered an elite pro prospect out of Florida.

But the Broncos traded up to take him with the 25th pick in the 2010 draft, and his success this season since taking over the starting job from Kyle Orton has fans and even some analysts not caring about how he’s doing it.

“Everybody wants to talk about how good a player Tebow is. I’m not concerned about that,” ex-coach Jimmy Johnson said on Fox’s pregame show Sunday. “The thing that impresses me is more than any other player I’ve ever seen, he brings out the best in everybody around him. This guy is special.”

A 41-23 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday snapped Tebow’s six-game winning streak. But in going 11-of-22 for 194 yards passing and rushing for 93 yards and two touchdowns, he showed his multidimensional value.

“When you look at Tebow, because they’re able to have a different style of run game and a different scheme, that puts people in a bind,” Hasselbeck said. “There are some guys that are better passers than others but then there are quarterbacks who are afforded the ability to throw against easier looks.”

Hasselbeck pointed out that Tebow finished with more rushing touchdowns last season — six — than Jamaal Charles or Ray Rice, while only playing in nine games.

The Broncos’ read-option offense relies on the young quarterback’s ability to freeze defenses with his running prowess.

Unlike Broncos legend John Elway, Randall Cunningham and Steve Young — who were successful running the ball — Tebow’s not the fleetest of foot.

But he doesn’t need to be.

“He’s another guy that can make plays,” Broncos running back Lance Ball said. “If you sleep on him, he’s going to make a play. If you hone in on him, other guys around him will make plays.”

The Broncos don’t have a plethora of offensive weapons, relying on the likes of running back Willis McGahee, receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas and tight end Daniel Fells.

But Denver is in first place in the AFC West in part because the offense often works so well with Tebow at the controls.

It also masks deficiencies. Hasselbeck said defenses have to legitimately worry about a run play on third and long, which means a whole different set of opportunities for Tebow.

“They get guys wide open,” Hasselbeck said. “He doesn’t have to be the best passer. Does he have to be able to make passes from inside the pocket? Absolutely he does. … [But] I know that he works, and I know that he’s physically strong. His mechanics, they can be improved.”

Sunday didn’t feature Tebow magic in the fourth quarter, but coach John Fox noted improvement.

“I feel like we’ve gotten better at throwing the ball,” Tebow added. “I think we’re getting better — the timing with the receivers, and the receivers step up and do a great job, they definitely make me look a lot better than I am.”

One of the popular refrains from Broncos fans is that it doesn’t matter how good Tebow is as long as he wins games.

But while Hasselbeck admittedly was one of the quarterback’s staunchest supporters from the start, he doesn’t consider seven victories in nine games a fair calculation.

“With a small sample size, which is still kind of what we have on him, I think it’s a horrible measuring stick for evaluation,” he said.

And though it’s clear Tebow has a ways to go to entrench himself as a starting NFL quarterback, it doesn’t mean improvement isn’t possible — if not likely.

“He’s never going to be Tom Brady. Steve Young was one of the most efficient passers in history. He will not be that,” Hasselbeck said. “He can still be successful. He will just have to do it a certain way.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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