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Postcard from camp: Florida

With Tebow at QB full time, Gators begin title defense

Posted: Friday August 10, 2007 11:54AM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 6:43PM
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Tim Tebow
QB Tim Tebow gets a chance to lead Florida full time, but he's already a star in the fans' minds.
AP
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After signing a few autographs for a throng of some 250 fans who braved the smoldering heat that registered 110 on the heat index, Tim Tebow did a couple brief interviews, before being directed to a golf cart so security could whisk him to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for team meetings.

If ever there was a scene that cemented the sophomore quarterback's current status among Florida fans, it was this one. While his teammates could leisurely walk back across the path from the practice field to the stadium, the team's resident rock star needed an escort.

"Gator fans are the best, and any time you can hang out with Gator fans it's going to be fun," Tebow said with a laugh. "Like they say: 'The University of Florida's in Gainesville but Gator Nation is everywhere.'"

Despite being a change-of-pace option to less-mobile senior Chris Leak last year as a freshman, Tebow was extremely successful. He is the Gators' leading returning rusher even though he spent last season predictably burrowing between the guards or taking the snap and breaking to the outside.

The Legend of Tebow is rooted in his legs. He did throw a bit, most famously hitting tight end Tate Casey for a TD against LSU on a jump-pass that looked like something from the hardwood Gators. Overall, he threw for five scores and one interception on 33 attempts.

But Tebow is a sideshow no longer. As coach Urban Meyer said the day after the BCS title game, "It's Tim Tebow's team as of right now." After Meyer passed the torch, Tebow knew he would have to work on his passing. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder crammed with senior receiver Andre Caldwell in the offseason, working on his touch, placement and reading defenses.

"The things that change you from an average quarterback to a good quarterback and a good quarterback to a great quarterback is knowing everything," Tebow said.

During Wednesday's practice, Tebow put his work on display, showing a deft touch on intermediate routes and a knack for evading the pass rush and throwing on the run. At times, he still delivered bullets when a softly thrown ball would have sufficed, but as Meyer attests, the development is there.

"I have seen a lot of progress," the coach said. "A lot of work still needs to be done and not just throwing the ball, but the whole managing of the offense. But he's working his tail off. He'll be fine."

Last year, Tebow ran because that was his role. As he puts it: "Last season, it was more of what I could do to help the team and the mentality of doing anything it takes."

The legs are obviously still there. Tebow continues to run with reckless abandon, often charging into contact at practice rather than avoiding it. This year, though, the arm that produced a Florida prep record 9,940 yards and 95 touchdowns will be on display.

For those who doubt Tebow's arm, Caldwell has a message: "He's going to surprise a lot of people," he said. "They don't think he can throw, they think he's just a runner, but he's a very accurate quarterback. He throws a nice ball and he's going to make a lot of big plays that people ain't expecting."

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