Published January 27, 2010
MOBILE, Ala. – The Senior Bowl has never seen anyone like Tim Tebow.
No player in this college all-star game was ever swarmed as much as the University of Florida quarterback following Tuesday afternoon's practice. Once the South squad broke its team huddle, Tebow had handlers pulling him in every direction. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, his former offensive coordinator at UF, was among the familiar faces embracing Tebow in a hug. Well-wishers and autograph seekers -- as well as the NFL coaches and scouts who have shamelessly asked Tebow to sign memorabilia in private settings this week -- tried getting his attention. A media horde then followed in Pied Piper-like fashion as the most celebrated player in college football history walked onto an NFL Network set for an interview.
Tebow wasn't flustered by any of this hoopla because it's nothing new. Besides, what's more important for Tebow is the thinking of those who weren't part of the post-practice hysteria.
The Ladd-Peebles Stadium bleachers were filled with NFL executives and coaches who are just beginning their dissection of Tebow in earnest. Ask 10 different personnel guys for a Tebow opinion and you'll receive 10 different answers.
Some aren't sold that Tebow will ever have the mechanics to thrive at the NFL level. Some are already convinced that Tebow has what it takes despite an awkward throwing motion and inexperience playing under center. Other responses ranged between those extremes.
And then there are those taking a wait-and-see approach like Pittsburgh Steelers personnel director Kevin Colbert.
"This is just the very beginning of his transition to being an NFL quarterback," Colbert said. "That may take one to three years until he's up to speed. I always say kids coming from a spread offense, you're not seeing what they're going to be asked to do in a traditional NFL offense. That doesn't mean they can't do it. It just may take a little longer."
Even so, that won't temper the knee-jerk media reactions already surrounding Tebow after just two days of Senior Bowl practice.
Tebow's opening session Monday didn't go well. He frequently fumbled the quarterback-center exchange -- not surprising since Tebow played almost exclusively out of the shotgun at UF -- and was inaccurate with his throws. A new round of Tebow bashing began.
That lasted for roughly 24 hours. Despite suffering from a bout of strep throat, Tebow's next showing was much better with several nice long passes under the watch of Miami Dolphins and South all-star coach Tony Sparano.
"He got the ball out of his hand with a little bit more urgency," Sparano said in his Tuesday news conference. "That just tells you that in two days this thing is actually getting slower for him, which is good. It tells you how smart a player the guy is."
Marc Trestman -- a former NFL assistant and current head coach of the CFL-champion Montreal Alouettes -- said such quick improvement isn't uncommon among Senior Bowl quarterback prospects as they shake rust and grow more comfortable as the week unfolds.
"He's got enough on the ball," Trestman said. "He can spin it. He's got major upside."
Trestman would know. He recently spent two days in Miami working with Tebow on Xs and Os to help prepare him for the scouting process.
"We spent time talking football on the board -- protections, route running, drops, reads," Trestman said. "He was outstanding. He was more advanced than what I thought. I was just amazed at how quick-minded he was and verbal in terms of the clarity of his understanding of the game.
"He's one of the most impressive guys you'll ever meet as a person. He's just got to continue to work at it."
That's at least one thing Tebow supporters and detractors can agree upon. If he flops on the NFL level, a lack of effort or leadership skills won't be the reason why. Since his college career ended earlier this month, Tebow has worked diligently to prepare for the pre-draft process with 12-hour training sessions in Nashville and tutoring from quarterback guru Zeke Bratkowski. One chalkboard session with Trestman ran until 2 a.m. Four hours later, a disheveled Trestman had Tebow knocking on his hotel room door wanting to start again.
Tebow is trying to find a higher release point and shorten his elongated throwing motion, being especially conscious not to drop the football below his hip like at times in college. Tebow, though, isn't apologizing for his untraditional technique.
"I'm not ashamed of anything I do on the field, my mechanics or my motion," Tebow told the NFL Network. "I was taught a certain way in our offense and by our coaches. Now that I'm asked to do something different, I'm going to work as hard as I can. I believe I'm going to be able to get that done."
Just like he grabbed the Senior Bowl headlines by agreeing to play in Saturday's game, Tebow will remain the biggest story leading into April's NFL draft even though he won't be among the first players selected. Tebow's reach even extends to Super Bowl XLIV, where his participation in a pro-life television commercial has become a major pregame controversy.
Tebow may very well be a first-round pick, although that isn't a given. Tebow could get the Brady Quinn treatment and slide deeper than expected. The drama should boost the league's television ratings as the draft's first round moves into a Thursday night prime-time slot.
But when and where Tebow gets chosen didn't matter to his supporters Tuesday. After finishing his TV interview, Tebow was rushed to midfield for a quick commercial photo shoot. He then left without speaking to reporters, although Tebow did take time to pat a young Gator fan on the head like a priest blessing a follower.
And that's what we all were, trailing behind Tebow like puppy dogs until he walked onto a team bus that rolled away.
Alex Marvez interviewed Kevin Colbert on Sirius NFL Radio. Marvez will appear with co-host Jim Miller from 1 to 3 p.m. E.S.T. Wednesday on Sirius.