Tim Tebow preps for the first big week of his pro career.
Today it begins. Once the highlights and interviews from the championship games begin to fade and the reality of a Saints-Colts Super Bowl sets in, we'll turn our attention to the compelling story of the NFL offseason, and it begins at 2:30 p.m. Central Time in southern Alabama.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow steps into the NFL crucible, onto a practice field ringed by coaches and scouts, at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., beginning a week of practice, meetings and face-to-face visits with prospective NFL employers. Tebow will play for the South Team, coached by the Miami Dolphins staff (Jim Schwartz's Lions staff has the North), with respected quarterback teacher and technician David Lee of the Dolphins handling his day-to-day regimen on the practice field.
Tebow worked out with CFL coach Marc Trestman for two days early this month, and then daily for the past two weeks in Nashville at the D1 Training Center, under the coaching of former NFL quarterback and coach Zeke Bratkowski. Tebow's thrown to tight end Jimmy Graham of Miami and wideout Jordan Shipley from Texas. He's dropped seven pounds (from 245 to 238).
We in the media business are going to spend the next three months writing the Tebow story into the ground, but there are good reasons for it. He's had unparalleled college success, he's a too-good-to-be-true kid by all accounts, and he's a polarizing football prospect because there's great debate whether his mechanics and arm will allow him to be an every-down NFL quarterback.
Also, he's an unabashed pro-life supporter; his mother, Pam, was advised by her doctor late in Tebow's pregnancy to abort the baby because it was a dangerous pregnancy. Her refusal led to Tebow's compelling life -- and also to a 30-second Super Bowl commercial by Tebow and Pam (sponsored by Focus on the Family) that will add to Tebow-mania.
On Friday I spoke to Tebow for the first time, mostly about football, but some about the commercial -- and, specifically, what impact it might have, if any, on his draft prospects. I told him most NFL teams like their rookies to be seen and not heard, and certainly not heard in any politically divisive way. And there isn't a subject in this country that touches more buttons than abortion.
What I heard from Tebow was the voice of a kid with convictions, who doesn't shrink from what he believes -- even if it might hurt his draft prospects.
"That's always going to be a part of who I am, and I won't try to hide it,'' Tebow told me from Nashville, where he was working out with Bratkowski, the former Packer quarterback and longtime NFL assistant coach. "A team that doesn't want that shouldn't take me. Pro-life is very important to me. My mother listened to God late in her pregnancy, and if she had listened to others and terminated me, obviously I wouldn't be here. If others don't have the same belief, it's OK. I understand. But I hope they respect that at least I have the courage to stand up for what I believe in.''
Tebow will wow everyone he meets one-on-one in Mobile and at the Scouting Combine next month with his poise, presence and humility. That you know, obviously. When I asked about one of the biggest faults NFL scouts find with him -- his elongated throwing motion -- he said it's something scouts also said about Brett Favre and Philip Rivers when they were prospects, and it hasn't seemed to hurt them. Then he said: "I've been training every day since the Sugar Bowl. Every day. And that's one of the things I've been working diligently on. I think the scouts and coaches will see it's something I've improved on.''
Tebow wants to open himself up totally, beginning this week. He wants to show every team in the league everything he can do physically and mentally, and he wants to begin to prove he's not a one-trick pony -- a triple-option quarterback who loves to bowl over linebackers and make weird jump passes and other counter-NFL-culture plays.
"I want to show, number one, that I'm a competitor and I'm not afraid for teams to see everything about me. My goal is to find just one team, one out of 32, to believe in me as a quarterback. I'm not just the guy who can play in the spread offense, or throw a jump pass or run the triple option. I'm a football junkie. I study it all the time. I've studied every type of offense -- pro style, West Coast. Just because I haven't played every kind of offense, why can't I? Why can't I run the West Coast? My coaches at Florida didn't just teach us a system. They taught us football. So I want the NFL people to put me through everything. Grind on me, test me. I feel I've worked my whole life to prepare for this.''
Tebow will excel when NFL teams (mostly at the combine in Indianapolis, but some in Mobile) get him up on the board and start talking specific plays with him. He'll need to prove he can be an accurate downfield passer and that he isn't totally reliant on running to be a good quarterback. I asked what he'd do if a team wanted him to be a versatile player instead of an every-down quarterback.
"It's a possibility,'' he said, "but I'm trying to get someone to believe in me as a quarterback.''
I expect he'll do that.
Invasion of the Juniors.
Last year, 15 underclassmen were first-round draft choices. This year, there should be at least that many, and it's conceivable that as many as 18 to 20 could go in the first round. I asked NFLDraftScout.com, a site I use and respect around draft day, to rank the top juniors --and where they rank in the first-round draft order. (The comments here belong to NFLDraftScout.com player analyst Rob Rang; the number indicates where the player's projected to be picked.)
2. DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
4. QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
5. FS Eric Berry, Tennessee
6. DE Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech
7. CB Joe Haden, Florida
8. DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida
9. QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
10. ILB Rolando McClain, Alabama
11. WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
13. OT Anthony Davis, Rutgers
14. OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
20. RB Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech
25. WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame
27. OT Bruce Campbell, Maryland
29. WR Damian Williams, USC
NFL Truth & Rumors