By that point, we’ll know exactly where one of college football’s most storied players was chosen in April’s draft. But as the debate continues about when he will be selected, there is no questioning that Tebow has come a long way in a short span of time.
Tebow’s throwing mechanics have greatly improved. So has his footwork after extensive workouts with quarterback coaches and tutors. Even his spirals were tighter when throwing to former University of Florida teammates like Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez before a crowd of about 1,000 fans that gave Tebow a rock-star reaction.
“He was very conscientious about keeping the ball up and shortening the release,” Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith said after the hour-long session. “The length of the release isn’t easy to address unless you really make a concerted effort. You’ve got to be someone who has a strong will to prepare. I think that’s what Tim has.”
Tebow was lauded for his leadership, competitiveness and compassion during a college career that netted Florida two national championships. Those elements haven’t changed.
Two new examples: Tebow spent extensive time after Wednesday’s workout meeting with disabled children and taking photographs with youngsters in the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium stands. And during a walk-through practice the previous day, a member of his sizeable entourage offered $50 if Tebow could hit an end-zone crossbar with a pass. Tebow nailed it from 35 yards away, then jokingly opened his palm asking for the money.
Yet so much of the pre-draft talk surrounding Tebow has centered upon what he didn’t display in college – an NFL skill set.
Tebow failed to impress at the Senior Bowl and opted not to throw at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He was being pigeonholed with other storied collegians who later flopped. Of the past 10 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks besides Tebow, only Carson Palmer has enjoyed pro stardom.
Criticism of Tebow’s college delivery is justified. Tebow sometimes dropped the football near belt-level on his wind-up. That extended his release time while also making Tebow more susceptible to being stripped by oncoming pass-rushers. Another NFL knock was playing in Florida’s spread offense. Tebow was rarely asked to take snaps from center or read defenses as extensively as he must do now.
“There’s a learning curve,” said Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren, one of more than a dozen top NFL executives and head coaches in attendance Wednesday. “He’s been in a systems offense and done very well. It’s a very successful offensive philosophy. You can see people are trying to do it at times in the NFL, but really you’re asking the quarterback to do different things.”
Still, one of the things that separates Tebow from most of his peers is work ethic. After his final game at Florida, Tebow set aside whatever ego he had – and by all accounts, he doesn’t have much of one – and allowed himself to get reprogrammed. Long-time quarterbacks coach Zeke Bratkowski, among others, was hired by Tebow’s agent Jimmy Sexton to correct his flaws. That meant better coordinating Tebow’s footwork and passing motion to create greater accuracy.
“I worked on shorter steps when throwing the ball and did not have such a wide base,” Tebow said after the workout. “I’m holding the ball a little higher and not taking it down-and-around in a windmill motion.”
Asked why he didn’t try to fix these problems while in college, Tebow said, “I knew I could get a quicker release, but I don’t necessarily know it was the right time after (winning) championships to try and do that. The goal was trying to complete passes, win games and score touchdowns. Now, the goal is trying to improve me in a different way with my fundamentals.”
As much of a gym rat as he is, there’s only so much Tebow can accomplish at a pro day and during an upcoming month packed with private pre-draft workouts. Tebow can do nothing to erase concerns that he will revert to his old ways when feeling the heat in game situations. It appeared his release point dropped on some throws toward the end of Wednesday’s workout, which would understandably raise fears that the same could happen in games as Tebow fatigued.
Tebow also continues to zip passes where the football’s nose sometimes takes a downward trajectory. Bratkowski said that happens when Tebow “tries to throw a little too hard. He doesn’t wait until his feet are set … Sometimes he has a tendency to speed it up too much. We talk to him a lot about that. Slow down a little bit.”
While praising Tebow’s performance on a cool, overcast day, Bratkowski and Holmgren weren’t ready to proclaim him a lock for future success. That is wise considering how much more work Tebow needs before becoming NFL-ready.
“I’m going to steer clear of that one,” said Holmgren, who is regarded as a quarterbacks guru for his work with Steve Young, Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck. “I think Tim is one of those guys you root for. If he’s on your team, you have a better team. I’ll leave it at that.”
While he remains an unabashed supporter, Bratkowski pointed to intangibles like the state of the franchise where Tebow is drafted.
“It depends what team you’re on, how many good receivers you’ve got, if you’re accurate and if you’ve got protection,” said Bratkowski, a long-time NFL quarterbacks coach. “You give me all those things, you’ve got a successful quarterback. Those are the problems. You don’t know.
“I do know this – I was asked a lot of questions by teams that seem to be in a quandary about their quarterback situation.”
We know this, too: Tebow is determined to prove his critics wrong. Based upon the NFL feedback he received, Tebow thinks he’s en route to doing so.
“They were pleased with the improvements,” Tebow said. “I don’t know what they’re saying behind closed doors, but everything that was said to me was pretty positive. That’s how I’ll take it.”