On football

At Tebow’s workout, lots of show, but little tell

By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / March 18, 2010

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tim Tebow’s receivers were covered only by light mist yesterday. The rush was simulated, and he was not asked to read defenses, just operate off a carefully managed script.

There wasn’t a thigh pad or a chin strap to be found, and instead of 22 finely conditioned athletes on the field, there were dozens of middle-aged men tucked snugly into team parkas.

Game day at Florida Field, this was not. But an event, it was.

Whereas last year, fewer than 75 media members were credentialed for the Gators’ Pro Day (still a very high number), more than 150 attended yesterday. All 32 NFL teams were represented; there were five head coaches, five general managers, and the total NFL personnel exceeded 75. Concession stands were open, and more than 2,000 fans showed up despite deplorable conditions and a 10 a.m. start time.

The Fascination of Tebow continues.

“It’s been like that since his senior year at Nease [High School],’’ said Robbie Tebow, Tim’s older brother and right- hand man. “It’s always been elevated to the top degree in everything he’s done.

“It’s crazy how much he’s been scrutinized the last two months, more than anybody else ever, but you just use it as fuel to the fire. Let it motivate you, because you can’t worry about that kind of stuff. Because at the end of the day, it’s just somebody’s opinion.’’

Every big-time school hosts Pro Day, an orchestrated workout on familiar turf for all draftable football players. But it’s hard to remember one that has approached the carnival-like atmosphere of this one. If there was one in the ballpark, it had to be Southern Cal’s 2006 workout, but that was about a herd of stars, headlined by Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.

Tebow won’t be the first Gator picked in April’s draft. In fact, there’s a very good chance he won’t among the top five from Florida selected.

But this day wasn’t about Joe Haden redeeming himself after a disappointing 40-yard dash at the combine. Nor was it about freakish defensive end Carlos Dunlap, or tight end Aaron Hernandez, or middle linebacker Brandon Spikes.

It was about Tebow, who still comes off almost bashful, yet has known nothing but this level of scrutiny, as his brother said, since he was a high school senior. And that’s because there has always been such a curiosity about the quarterback with the fullback’s mentality and the linebacker build.

Zeke Bratkowski, 78, played 15 seasons as an NFL quarterback, and has coached the position for nearly four decades. He has been around so long that when he was a backup to Bart Starr in Green Bay, he was known as “Uncle Zekie.’’

But ask him to recall a quarterback like Tebow, and he can’t. The Tebow résumé is just that different, and maybe that’s why the football world is so mesmerized to see what becomes of him in the NFL.

“I’ve never see the athleticism he has, and to be able to play the position with everything, mental to physical,’’ Bratkowski said. “A lot of people talked about projecting him to other positions. He’s where he should be, right there, because a good offensive coordinator’s going to take advantage of his athleticism and all the things he can do.’’

Bratkowski, though, has a horse in this race. He is part of a four-man coaching team — with Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, former NFL coach Sam Wyche, and Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman — charged with overhauling Tebow’s mechanics and readying him for the pro game.

Others are less certain about his prospects. College scouts for NFL teams told the Globe after the workout that Tebow hadn’t done a whole lot to improve his draft stock.

The positive, on this day, was that Tebow showed he’d made major strides in the six weeks since undertaking the plan to change his delivery, since a disappointing week at the Senior Bowl. His delivery was more compact. His footwork was vastly improved.

In showing that, Tebow demonstrated that he’d commit to improving, that he had taken coaching, absorbed it, and become better. That’s vital for any player tagged as a “project.’’

The trouble is that Tebow already had high marks in all the intangible qualities.

And the negatives remained. His accuracy remained erratic. His long windup, which telegraphed throws, was simply replaced by a pause in his delivery. He looked mechanical in play-action, and when moved off the spot or throwing on the run, his mechanics, at times, reverted.

So stands the next test for Tebow: Most coaches look for quarterbacks to be fluid and natural throwing the ball. The Florida quarterback did show improvement, but at times it looked forced, raising questions as to how he’d hold up in game conditions.

“It’s clear that he’s made some adjustments already,’’ said Browns president and noted quarterback guru Mike Holmgren. “The challenge for anybody — not just Tim, but anybody that plays that position — is when you make the changes, you can do it in a workout, at a combine, but what happens when you’re playing and you’re competing and it’s happening fast? Can you do it then?’’

Holmgren flatly rejected the idea that Tebow and old Holmgren protégé Steve Young, as developmental prospects, are at all comparable. And that’s the problem with — and the fascinating thing about — Tebow. There really might not be a counterpart to him.

Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who was with Tebow for two years (2006-07) in Gainesville, swears that the kid is nothing but a quarterback.

“Tim Tebow is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime guy,’’ said Mattison.

That’s the truth. Not everyone has sick kids waiting to give them hugs after a day like this. Not everyone has a press room that looks like an overstuffed sardine can waiting for him after a day like this.

Tebow is just, well, different. So the stage is, too.

“It’s something that I’ll relish, because at least there’s a lot of people that care about what I’m doing,’’ Tebow said. “That just helps with my platform, which is the No. 1 thing for me, the ability to better kids’ lives and make them smile, just like with the kids we were with outside.

“Whether they’re talking good about me or bad about me, people care enough to care about what I’m doing. I take that as a compliment.’’

There’s plenty of divergence of opinion on where this kid is headed. But as for where he is, there’s little arguing it’s a place where very few have ever been.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer.

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