By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The reviews were mixed when asking the Pittsburgh Steelers about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
The Steelers (12-4) face Tebow and the Broncos (8-8) Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.
Steelers right offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert and center Maurkice Pouncey, who both played with Tebow at the University of Florida, even had opposing viewpoints about the 6-foot-3, 235-pound quarterback.
“I’m tired of answering all these questions about Tebow,” Pouncey said after a few minutes. “How come nobody asked me about Brandon Spikes when we played the New England Patriots?”
Gilbert recalled his early days with Tebow and the Gators.
“The first time I ever met him, I knew there was something special about him,” Gilbert said. “He just had that special something that you can’t teach.”
After a morning spent on a conference call with the Denver media, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger already was all Tebowed-out. But he knew where to go for the cause of the so-called Tebowmania.
“You have to blame ESPN for that,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t think Tim calls up ESPN and says for them to put him on every day and make it the Steelers against Tebow. It’s probably tough for him to deal with all that stuff.
“I can’t speak for his teammates, but I know there’s a lot of guys who have had to change their offensive schemes, how they run and the things that they do off their runs. And they probably don’t get the pub that he does.”
Inside linebacker James Farrior, the Steelers’ defensive captain, said that he always has been a Tim Tebow fan.
“You can’t help it since you guys talk about him all the time,” Farrior said. “But you don’t see that option that he runs too much, so he’s a different style of quarterback. He definitely uses his legs more than anything else, but the one thing you have to say about him is that he’s a competitor.”
None of the Steelers’ defenders talked about Tebow’s passing prowess, most likely because he generally has not been successful in that area. Tebow has completed just 46.5 percent of his passes for 1,729 yards and 12 touchdowns with just six interceptions. His passer rating is 72.9, while Roethlisberger’s — by comparison — is 90.1.
So, Tebow hasn’t been too efficient when throwing the ball. However, he is a dangerous runner. Big, strong and fearless, Tebow has rumbled for 660 yards and six touchdowns with a 5.4-yard average per carry.
“He can take it anywhere on the field,” Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “Everybody’s going to have to be ready. We need to stay in our gaps and be gap sound. It’s all about being disciplined. Everybody needs to be disciplined and not try to do too much. (But) he’s been a great player for them.
According to some people, he’s the greatest college football player to ever play the game. He came into the NFL and got an opportunity. Everybody roots for that type of guy. (But) I like it because they run the ball. Any time a team runs the ball, I like that challenge. I get a little more action, so I always like that.”
For just the second time since the Oct. 2 game at Houston, outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are expected to start. The two also opened the Dec. 4 game with Cincinnati, but Woodley did not last. He started at San Francisco, but Harrison was suspended for that game. He started the last two regular-season games, but Woodley sat out those to rest his sore hamstring.
“I can’t wait for that duo to get back together again,” Farrior said. “Woodley seems to have been out for a long time, and Harrison missed some games, too. Having those two guys back together gives us more confidence on defense. We know what we have with those two guys out there and what they give us.”
Whether it’s enough to contain Tebowmania remains to be seen.