Tim Tebow broke Wednesday’s post-practice huddle with teammates and was quickly surrounded by reporters, recorders, microphones and cameras that went four or five deep in some spots. When his 10 minutes of fielding questions was over, he was whisked away from the media.
… And he walked right past the best quarterback at the Senior Bowl, Jarrett Brown, who, by the way, was chatting it up with a single reporter.
That is the quarterback conundrum at this year’s Senior Bowl, where Tebow came in with the hype and the fanfare – and plenty of questions about his ability.
Tebow is like the American Idol contestant the cameras can’t get enough of. He looks the part in some ways, measuring in at 6-foot-2, 236 pounds. But is he a lead singer on the bigger stage of the NFL or just a background vocalist?
“I believe in myself and my ability to be coachable, my ability to work hard. So I feel with those things I could be an NFL quarterback,” he said.
“I believe could fit into a lot of different styles of offenses because I would be coachable and work at scheming and how to fit into it. Obviously, just like at Florida, whatever you do very well that’s kind of what you mold the offense around and the plays around.”
Tebow obviously had a lot of success at Florida, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and being a part of two National Championships. He also broke University of Florida and Southeastern Conference records for rushing touchdowns.
From a football perspective, his throwing motion comes under scrutiny the most. He drops the ball lower than most before throwing it, which creates a longer release and gives defenders more time to react to his passes in search of game-changing interceptions. Tebow sees room for improvement there, but he also tries to downplay how big of an issue it should be for NFL teams considering spending a high-round draft pick on him.
“It depends on the coaches; it depends on the organization. I feel with quickening it, yeah, we can work on that. With the actual release, I think it’s OK,” he said.
“… There are other guys in the league with similar releases, but, yeah, I would like to quicken it.”
But when it comes to the tale of Tim Tebow, there is so much more than his ability to play quarterback at the NFL level, which is constantly under a microscope.
This week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., two side stories are converging on him. First is his health. He confirmed a report that he had strep throat and had to see doctors on Monday, saying he has been getting nightly fluids intravenously.
“I’ve kind of been sick a little bit since Saturday, dealing with strep. So you might not want to touch me. It’s cool,” he said with a smile.
The crowd of reporters barely budged.
Creating even more of a stir outside of the football world is an ad that Tebow filmed with his mother Pam. The message of the ad takes a pro-life stance, which should hardly be surprising since Pam decided to go against the advice of doctors in 1987, who recommended she abort her pregnancy with Tim when she became ill following a mission trip to the Philippines.
“It’s me and my mom showing our love for each other. That’s pretty much what it’s about,” said Tebow, who declined to get into specifics about the 30-second spot.
But since news of the ad became public, women’s groups have been calling on CBS to pull the ad from its docket of Super Bowl spots. Wednesday was the first time Tebow addressed the situation at the Senior Bowl.
“I definitely didn’t think it would have this much hype and that much buzz. But it’s something that I believe in and I’ll stand up for,” he said.
But what about NFL teams that question him taking a public stand like that? He remains a man of his convictions.
“I think, if anything, they like that I took a stand with what I believe. If they don’t, that’s something that would hesitate them from bringing me on,” he said. “Then it probably wouldn’t be a good fit for me in the first place because I’m never going to deny what I believe in and things like that just for a game.”
The women’s groups that oppose the ad say the Super Bowl is not the forum for that message.
“I don’t think it’s anything that’s negative or anything like that,” Tebow said. “I think it’s a good time and place. I think there’s a lot of people watching and I think it’s a great opportunity to show something very happy and a special story and my mom fighting for me. So I think there are a lot of great things in that.”
On the field, Tebow creates controversy as well with the differences of opinions that are generated by NFL scouts trying to figure out what he is and how good of a quarterback he could be. It’s a million-dollar question with a lot of different answers. Is he a first-round quarterback, a mid-round quarterback or a guy that will eventually have to try another position in the NFL? For now, he steadfastly maintains focus on the quarterback position.
The highlight of Tebow’s on-field performance was a very solid throw during full-team work. With Tulane receiver Jeremy Williams streaking down the right sideline, Tebow lofted his best pass of the day, one that was just out of the reach of a cornerback in good position to defend and fell right in position for Williams to make a one-handed, 35-yard reception.
Earlier in practice, Tebow found Ole Miss receiver Dexter McCluster down the left sideline and lofted a 40-yard pass that didn’t require the speedy McCluster to break stride.
On the down side, Tebow also stared down former Florida teammate Riley Cooper, which allowed USC safety Taylor Mays to break on the pass and nearly intercept it in the end zone. Tebow also threw too softly for Alabama-Birmingham’s Joe Webb, allowing a defensive back to break up that pass as well.
The draw of Tebow wasn’t limited to the media. His impact on fan attendance is evident. The morning practice, sans Tebow, drew some fans. The afternoon practice with Tebow (and oh, by the way, the rest of the South squad) attracted a bigger following, about half of them sporting some form of Florida fandom.
The pack follows him from behind the fence. If he’s working with the other South quarterback near the sideline, the pack is there. When he moves to the end zone to work on throwing into or over a portable net, the portable pack migrates with him.
A teenage girl wears a t-shirt proudly sporting the words “Got Tebow?” South Alabama college players join the Swamp faithful clicking pictures and holding their cameras high. If the rapid-fire shudders aren’t clicking digital images, then the device is set to video mode in hopes of capturing his every Senior Bowl moment. His followers don every sort of Gators gear – hats, visors, t-shirts, jersey and shorts.
His followers can’t get enough. Even during his post-practice media session, when he is asked for the second time about reports of his strep throat this week, he answers with a smile, saying he’s not quite over it and asks the inquisitor if he wants to hug him. From a distance, a female hears his answer and yells out, “I will!”
Reporters laugh. Tebow smiles as if it’s the kind of response he has engendered throughout his ride to stardom.
His interview is put on a 10-minute clock and his Senior Bowl handler is committed to the time frame. Eight-and-a-half minutes in the media session, his handler for the week belts out, “Two more questions!”
Two more are asked and Tebow is immediately whisked away from the media pack and a couple of autograph seekers who found their way onto the field. He shakes hands quickly with acquaintances and is escorted off the field by more security and past another gathering of Gator faithful fenced off near the locker room. Another day in the glaring spotlight that is Tim Tebow is done.
He is off to lean up, eat and attend team meetings in an effort to turn rock star into NFL quarterback.
THE TUESDAY LEAD
Somebody find the big top, paint it in Florida Gators blue, orange and white and ship it to Mobile, Ala. The Tim Tebow media circus continued Tuesday, even if Tebow was only doing an interview with NFL Network and not talking to other reporters following his second Senior Bowl practice.
There are better NFL prospects on display this week and even more intriguing stories, but Tebow continues to generate the attention even when he doesn’t say much publicly.
According to the Associated Press, a coalition of women’s groups have been calling on CBS to turn down an ad paid for by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family that is scheduled to air during the Super Bowl, a time slot that is fetching about $2.5 million per 30-second spot. The star of the commercial is none other than Tebow.
“The ad … is expected to recount the story of Pam Tebow's pregnancy in 1987 with a theme of ‘Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life,’” according to the Associated Press. “After getting sick during a mission trip to the Philippines, she ignored a recommendation by doctors to abort her fifth child and gave birth to Tim, who went on to win the 2007 Heisman Trophy while helping his Florida team to two BCS championships.”
The Women’s Media Center sent a letter to CBS stating its position on the ad.
"By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers," the letter said, according to the AP.
Tebow was also the subject of a report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that said Tebow was hospitalized with strep throat on Monday and quoted his agent, Jimmy Sexton, saying Tebow had a 103-degree temperature for a couple of days.
But Tebow was on the field practicing as normal, talked with advisors and acquaintances after practice and did an interview with NFL Network.
Tebow looked a little better than he did on Monday, but he dropped at least one snap while under center, which became a focus of Monday’s criticisms.
More glaring than the dropped center-quarterback exchange was a pair of consecutive throws that should have been intercepted during a seven-on-seven portion of practice. The first time, he dropped back to pass and held onto the ball far too long before throwing down the left sideline. Linebacker Eric Norwood missed an easy interception off his hands and appeared to give up on the play just as Tebow was releasing it, probably because of the amount of time that had elapsed since the snap of the ball. On the next throw, Tebow misfired badly in the middle of the field and another linebacker dropped what should have been an interception.
During full-team work, Tebow looked hesitant throwing the ball and pulled it down to run several times. His accuracy did improve somewhat over Monday’s performance, so he may be starting to get a little more comfortable with the offense that is being installed this week and the players joining him on the South squad.
Despite Tebow’s rough first day, the crowd’s desire to see him didn’t diminish. Two boys between the ages of 5 and 10 years old – one wearing Alabama gear and the other an Ole Miss supporter – were quick to spot Tebow before practice even started.
Another fans held an orange “TEBOW” sign up for much of the first part of practice. Despite throwing a few wobbling passes, when Tebow connected a few times with receivers early, a woman from the stands across the field could be heard yelling, “Good job, Tebow, whoo-hoo!”
During practice, Tebow stopped and hugged USC safety Taylor Mays when the two were crossing paths as they changed stations on the field, another sign of Tebow’s likeability factor from teammates and rivals alike.
After practice, Tebow stopped and chatted briefly with one of his advisors on mechanics, Zeke Bratkowski. From there, it was on to his NFL Network interview on the TV stage, and then back on the field briefly for a photo shoot. After that, he was escorted off the field by Senior Bowl personnel and two police officers, who may have been added to Tebow duty after the reaction generated from his involvement in the controversial ad.
THE MONDAY LEAD
Tim Tebow has the big stats, the big name and the big celebrity.
After gaining rock-star status with the Florida Gators, Tebow is trying to show NFL scouts that he has an NFL arm and that the leadership skills that helped Florida to a National Championship can transfer to the National Football League.
He has his doubters to be sure, and his performance Monday only added fuel to the Tebow detractors.
During his last start as a Florida Gator, he completed 31 of 35 passes for 482 yards and three touchdowns against Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. But his first NFL start might still be years away.
In front of NFL scouts, media and autograph hounds, Tebow struggled at the first Senior Bowl practice of the week. To his critics, it was more of a practice in the weak (as in, an arm too weak to handle NFL stardom).
But Tebow has heard that line of thinking before and presses on in his quest to become a professional quarterback.
“I’ve been pretty used to dealing with a lot of criticism since I was about eighth, ninth grade. I can handle it. I’m a pretty self-motivated person, but if anything it just adds a little motivation on there,” Tebow said after his practice when surrounded by reporters.
“I’ll just be focused and work as hard as I can and do the best I can. Other than that, I’m really not going to be worried about it.”
NFL scouts will do the worrying for him.
He throws on the field; they take notes from the sidelines. He drops back to pass; they watch his footwork. He cocks to throw; they note the low position of the ball.
Even the eyes that haven’t been trained by a descendant of the Bill Walsh family football tree can see the deviation from the accepted prototype. Footwork is one of the many areas he has been trying to improve to alleviate concerns.
“I’ve been working on it,” he said. “It’s to really work on taking snaps from a center because you don’t know who your center is (at the Senior Bowl) or anything like that. Every center is a little bit different. I don’t really think that’s the most important thing, taking a snap. I have been working on fundamentals a lot.”
But after dropping snaps under center, the criticisms were only starting. He didn’t even have the strongest arm on the South squad, let alone in the draft. His mechanics are far from ideal and he has been working on that with former NFL quarterback coaches and offensive coordinators Marc Trestman and Zeke Bratkowski.
“I’ve tried to work on my mechanics. I don’t think I’ve changed too much,” Tebow said.
This week, he is being coached by the Miami Dolphins staff, which includes quarterbacks coach David Lee and offensive coordinator Dan Henning.
Opinions vary wildly on Tebow. Some believe he could be worthy of a pick late in the first round of the NFL draft. Others see a player who needs to play a different position to really make it in the NFL, or just become a gimmicky quarterback.
For the naysayers, Tebow opted to play in the Senior Bowl to prove them wrong. For the Tebow backers, playing in the Senior Bowl could be a risk if there are teams that believe he is worthy of an early selection. So why risk hurting his draft stock by playing in the Senior Bowl?
“I think, one, I love playing football and, two, I love competing. I think those are the most important things,” he said. “I’m not worried about coming out here and failing in any way because I’m just coming out here and being myself. That’s all there is to it.”
Tebow was asked if any of his new teammates on the South squad ever tease him that he won’t be able to play in the NFL.
“No, not too much. Mostly just you all,” he said, referring to the media.
But that’s about as critical as Tebow gets. He leaves the criticizing up to others.
So what about that first day of practice in his post-Florida pursuit?
His engaging personality was evident, as he seemed to connect with teammates who were once college rivals, but he wasn’t connecting with his intended receivers as often as he should have been.
After dropping snaps from center, he struggled with his accuracy early. During one-on-one drills, his first pass was nearly intercepted and others were thrown short or behind the intended receivers.
During seven-on-seven drills, his connections were erratic, but he wasn’t helped by his receivers, who dropped two passes that should have been caught during a session that lasted six passes for Tebow.
His performance continued to be uneven in the full-team work. He looked good working play-action passes and rolling out on bootlegs, but when it came to standing in the pocket he didn’t appear quite as comfortable or perform quite as well. At times, he held onto the ball too long and other times just simply missed hitting on open receivers.
Tebow came in as the media star of the South quarterbacks, but truth be told his arm strength, pocket presence and accuracy were outdone by West Virginia’s Jarrett Brown.
How big is Tebow’s star? Before, during and after practice he garnered the most attention of any player on the field.
Tebow arrived early and started his work. He even got a high-five from a boy in an Alabama hat.
Once practice started, he was followed from location to location on the field by reporters and scouts on the sidelines. And fans, including a set of three boys decked out in Florida Gators jersey, hats and holding a helmet, followed his every move.
After practice, he had a handler dedicated to him, arranging for a one-on-one interview with NFL Network and then setting up a mass interview with reporters surrounding him, in some spots four and five deep.
While Tebow was conducting a post-practice interview with dozens of reporters and cameras flanking him, a boy of about 8 years old stood only feet away screaming at the top of his lungs, “Dad, I found Tim Tebow! He’s right here!”
With Tebow, it’s seems almost more than just football followers. He has a celebrity status, despite his seemingly humble demeanor. But that didn’t stop one TV reporter from belting out a question as he was being whisked away from an interview after practice. The burning last inquiry that had to be asked? “I heard your girlfriend was a finalist for American Idol.”
For the record, Tebow said it’s not true.