QB or not QB — that is the question for Tim Tebow

South team quarterback Tim Tebow throws the football during practice for the Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama Wednesday, January 27, 2010.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:53 p.m.

MOBILE, Ala. — This is a debate that has been simmering since 2007, the year he became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. Now, it is boiling over at the Senior Bowl this week.

Can Florida's Tim Tebow play quarterback in the NFL?

With hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts and general managers here to analyze and evaluate Tebow and the other future pros playing in Saturday's game, opinions are many and varied.

Some say he has the skill, the talent and the intangibles to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.

Some say he'll make it in the NFL as an H-back (a hybrid of a fullback and a tight end) or tailback or tight end, but not as an every-down quarterback.

Others say it's far too early to tell one way or the other.

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan is among the Tebow believers.

"I know all I need to know about the kid. He's a winner," Ryan said. "Obviously, he's a great competitor. He doesn't have to prove anything here. The fact he's out here is great. He's a winner. That's what you want as the No. 1 thing as a quarterback, so I think he's going to have a great future."

When asked if Tebow can be a quarterback at the next level, Ryan didn't hesitate.

"Yeah, absolutely," he said.

Others aren't so sure.

Much has been discussed and written about Tebow's potential flaws — his footwork, his mechanics, especially his long windup and delivery, and the fact he was almost exclusively a shotgun quarterback in a spread offense at UF.

"He's a tremendous athlete, a great competitor and a winner," said a scout with the Pittsburgh Steelers who asked to remain anonymous. "There's no doubt he'll have a career in the NFL. He's a football player. But I think you'll see him playing another position and getting a few plays a game as a Wildcat quarterback. He'll be more of a situational quarterback.

"You watch him throw the ball and he's got that long throwing motion. He doesn't get the ball out quick enough. As a former (NFL) defensive back, I loved going against quarterbacks like that because you could really zero in on their passes. Tebow's a great player, but I question whether he can be an every-down quarterback at the next level."

Other scouts have expressed similar concerns about Tebow this week, while others have been hesitant to judge simply on what are perceived to be faulty mechanics.

Tebow's coach this week, Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, said he does not see anything wrong with Tebow's throwing motion.

"I think his fundamentals and mechanics are really good, really solid," Sparano said. "They do a great job of coaching them at Florida, without a doubt. I think he's done some really good things and his delivery is fine.

"Our job is to help everyone of these kids as much as we possibly can during the course of the week, give them the tools in their tool box to go forward. Anyway we can help (Tebow) fundamentally this week, we will."

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith said Tebow is no different than any other quarterback making the transition from college to the NFL. He needs to be developed, and that probably includes work on his mechanics and other aspects of playing the position.

Smith said Tebow's work ethic, intangibles and passion for the game will play a significant role in his development.

"You talk about Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, coming out of college they were so passionate about competing at the very highest level," Smith said. "No one worked harder than those two. It's not like they had just God-given ability and just stepped out on the field and performed. The honed their skills.

"That's one thing Tim has. He has the mindset of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees from a preparation standpoint. He'll put in the time. How good he becomes, I don't know. I don't have a crystal ball. I do know he's a tremendous competitor who has played quarterback in a great program and he's won national championships. He's certainly showed the ability to lead, and that's the No. 1 thing you have to have in a quarterback."

Tebow is already working on improving his mechanics and throwing motion. To prepare for the Senior Bowl (and the upcoming NFL Combine and Senior Day at UF), Tebow has been working with former NFL quarterback Zeke Bratkowski and former NFL quarterbacks coach Marc Trestman.

"I think Tim will tell you he's certainly got some things he can improve on," Smith said. "He's got some things like most quarterbacks have that he can improve upon. I read where he's got a long release. I've seen him shorten it. If you're cognizant of things you need to improve on, great players work to improve in those areas. Tim gets that."

Tebow appears to have shortened his release. At times, he seems to struggle with it in practice, guiding the ball rather than just letting it go. But he's sticking with it.

Trestman is in Mobile this week keeping tabs on Tebow.

Trestman helped develop another NFL quarterback who the critics said had awkward mechanics. But Bernie Kosar turned out to have a successful career in the league.

"I've always said there is no formula for who's going to make it," Trestman said. "Who knew that Tom Brady was going to make it as the 199th pick? Kurt Warner was bagging groceries one year and in the NFL the next. There were guys who thought Ryan Leaf was going to be better than Peyton Manning. So, who knows?

"Tebow played four years in the SEC under the most pressured situations. There are so many intangibles that go into playing the position and playing in the chaos and the stress and the speed of this league. But this kid has played around speed his whole career. He's been able to complete balls, and we saw what he was able to do in the Sugar Bowl. I'm excited to see how this all unfolds.

"There are going to be a lot of people who really, really like him for all the right reasons. There will be others who are more critical. But I think he has a chance to be a dynamic player."

Ryan, the Jets' coach, agrees. He said Tebow's intangibles (his leadership qualities, his competitiveness, his drive to succeed) will help him overcome the questions and concerns about his mechanics.

"Yeah, I think so," Ryan said. "Hell, you look at his track record, the way he competes, and his win-loss record speaks volumes about him.

"He's probably the top competitor that I've really seen around in a long time. He doesn't have to be perfect. All he has to do is play quarterback. He'll be just fine."

Most of the scouts and coaches at the Senior Bowl seem to agree on one thing when it comes to Tebow: it's far too early in the evaluation process to judge where Tebow might go in the draft (and what happens once he's in the league).

"He's a good football player, and it's important to find good football players," Kansas City coach Todd Haley said. "I just haven't seen enough of him yet."

The Senior Bowl has been Tebow's first opportunity to perform in front of the coaches and scouts. There will be others after Saturday's game. Tebow will compete at the NFL Scouting Combine, Feb. 24-March 2, at Indianapolis and will work out for the coaches and scouts again at UF's Pro Day on March 17. He also will have individual workouts and meetings with teams that have interest in drafting him.

"This is just the beginning," Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "From here, you'll have the workouts and the combine and all those things, the interview process. Like a lot of young men, we're trying to get a good feel for how they're going to fit in on our level.

"It's way too early in the process to get into those kind of discussions (about how Tebow's mechanics might influence the Jags' final draft decision). I like to get a feel for players. I'll work at it and have an opinion. I'll have one on Tim at some point, but I won't give it to you any time soon."

There are already many opinions out there on Tebow. Some positive. Some negative.

"I know Tim is a great football player and he'll be a heck of a player in the NFL," said a scout with the San Diego Chargers who asked to remain anonymous. "I just don't know what position that will be at."

This is a debate that will not be settled until the draft — and maybe many years beyond, as Tebow's NFL career unfolds.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or at andreur@gvillesun.com.

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