Against the Cowboys Thursday night, Tim Tebow was 6-of-7 for 91 yards. (Tim Heitman/US Presswire)
What to do with Tim Tebow ...
It's a quandary that's apparently just below "How do we fix the economy?" in terms of national importance. Perhaps no quarterback in NFL history has elicited the type of response, both positive and negative, after one season and three starts.
Tebow was in the spotlight again Thursday night as Denver opened its preseason schedule at Dallas. He took over for Broncos starter Kyle Orton late in the first quarter and played until halftime of Denver's 24-23 loss.
And you know what? He wasn't half bad.
Tebow finished 6-of-7 for 91 yards passing, rushed twice for 15 yards and nearly turned in the highlight of the night -- a wild, scrambling effort that saw Tebow running all over the field on a play that was hampered by three Denver penalties, including Tebow stepping over the line of scrimmage before firing an incompletion.
He also left the door open for criticism, of course, getting hammered on a sack early and throwing an awful interception that was negated by a pass interference call.
All in all, it was an encouraging performance from the second-year quarterback -- even if you always have to take preseason performance with a grain of salt. Still, it had to feel good for Tebow, who's had a camp so rough that we've been left to wonder if his days in Denver are numbered.
"Tim is a work in progress," Denver coach John Fox said after the game. "He made some things happen. He's learning ..."
That's a pretty fair assessment of where we're at with Tebow right now. It still does not look like Tebow's ready to be a permanent NFL starter any time in the near future. Compared to where he was prior to the 2010 NFL draft, though, he seems to have at least taken baby steps forward.
We're talking about a 23-year-old quarterback with one year experience playing in an NFL system, after all. Even the best of the best struggle to make the leap from college -- Tom Brady, for example, threw three passes in his rookie year.
The issue for Denver is that the quarterback spot is overcrowded. The Broncos already tried to dump Kyle Orton and his $8.8 million cap hit to Miami. Tebow hasn't dodged the trade rumors, either, even if Orton's potential movement has drawn more attention.
Standing pat means the Broncos are left with Orton, Tebow and Brady Quinn to battle for reps. On the surface, it seems a bit like overkill to carry all three guys.
But if Denver can manage the salary cap -- and the Broncos may be in better shape than most think -- what's the harm in carrying all three quarterbacks into the regular season?
Let's not forget that the NFL revamped its "third quarterback" rule, adding a game-day roster spot so teams didn't have to designate a third signal-caller as inactive. It's a rule that may work to Denver's benefit more than any other team -- the Broncos could start Orton, keep Quinn around as a backup, then throw Tebow out for a change of pace a couple times a game.
Orton and Quinn are both set to become free agents after 2011, so this looks like a perfect season for Denver to try to figure out its future without sacrificing the present. It's OK to take that approach, even in the win-now NFL. The Broncos finished 4-12 last season, four games back of Oakland for third place in the AFC West, and they're working in a new coach.
To some Denver fans, that's no doubt a reason to go all-in on the Tebow experiment -- if the franchise is going to find out what it has in Tebow, it may as well do it now.
The thing is, we kind of know where Tebow is at, which is still very much on a learning curve. Whenever we've seen him play in a live game, he's shown flashes of brilliance. He's also made some head-scratching mistakes.
For now, if Orton's going to stick around, he is Denver's best option at quarterback. And if that means Tebow has to sit on the sidelines on Sundays, playing behind Orton and possibly Quinn, then so be it.
That doesn't mean Denver should be frantically trying to deal Tebow or that he's never going to be more than a second-stringer.
It's just that right now, he's still a "work in progress."