In a terrific story out of Denver on Wednesday, three former NFL quarterbacks noted during their careers in the league for their running prowess commented to the AP on the success of and the fascination with Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
Hall of Fame member Steve Young, Randall Cunningham and Bobby Douglass opined about Tebow. And their diverse assessments -- ranging from Young's contention that the Broncos are ultimately stunting Tebow and probably themselves with a current formula anathema to league standards, to Cunningham's unabashed admiration for the Denver quarterback's winning ways -- made for compelling stuff.
The only asterisk: With the possible exception of Douglass, who in 10 NFL seasons (1969-78) completed as many as half his pass attempts only once but rushed for 400 or more yards three times, no league quarterback in recent memory has run the ball in the manner Tebow does.
To label Tebow a "scrambler," as so many people have, is a mischaracterization of what he does and what the retooled Denver offense is about.
QB Tim Tebow
The count is certainly unofficial, but of Tebow's 82 running attempts in 2011, close to 60 percent have come by design, not improvisation, according to a Denver coach Likewise, much more than half of Cam Newton's 100 rushes have been called plays; roughly one-third of Michael Vick's 65 rushes this season were on something other than ad-libs.
"They are quarterbacks who run because their number is called," explained Chicago nose tackle Anthony Adams, whose team has already faced Vick and Newton in 2011 and travels to Denver on Sunday. "It's not the same as a guy who starts off in the pocket and who pulls down the ball and runs with it. These are planned runs. Some of the other stuff, you can talk about lane control and things like that, but you can't really prepare for it, because it's not planned. This forces you to get ready for it and be disciplined playing against it."
The dictionary includes no football-related definition for the term "scrambler." But it's like the old description of a duck. Or better yet, of pornography. You know it when you see it, right? And Tebow and Newton, in particular, don't walk or quack like a scrambler.
At least not a scrambler as veteran NFL-watchers have observed.
Given his proven ability to throw the football, his arm strength and accuracy, it might be slightly inappropriate to lump Newton in with the Tebow phenomena. After all, the latter has completed 50 percent of his passes in just one of seven starts this season. But both, perhaps even moreso than Vick, represent a significant change in the manner quarterbacks are analyzed. No one expects league scouts to begin rewriting the computer models and simulations for what key attributes an NFL quarterback should encompass -- Andrew Luck of Stanford needn't worry about being challenged as the standard -- but one can surmise there just might be some tinkering going on in the offseason.
Already, two offensive coordinators from relatively conservative franchises have noted to The Sports Xchange that their head coaches have mentioned to them the possibility of adding some "spread" formation looks for next season. Clearly, the notion extends beyond the standard understanding of "scrambling."
"These kinds of guys," allowed Atlanta safety Thomas Decoud, whose team faces Newton for a second time this season on Sunday, "are scary dudes. The guys who scramble will drive you nuts. These guys will drive you to get ready for them."
There is certainly not a sea-change taking place in the league, not in a game that has veered so heavily to the pass, and where no one blinks anymore when a quarterback completes 60 percent of his throws. But the successes this season of quarterbacks who can contribute from scrimmage, and not just bolt from the pocket in situations in which the field is scattered, could prompt some scouts to re-assess running skills.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.