There are 20 weeks between the NFL draft and the opening of the season. There is no question that the player with the toughest transition over that time will be Tebow. Most scouts saw him as a 6'3", 236-pound option quarterback with poor throwing mechanics whose skills wouldn't translate to the NFL. McDaniels, on a scouting trip to Gainesville four days before the draft, saw a gifted athlete with good size who after three hours was already repeating plays back to him in Denver terminology. In OTAs Quinn often was by Tebow's side, clarifying points. "I feel like Tim and I have a lot in common," says Quinn, a first-round pick in 2007 who never got a firm grip on the starting job in Cleveland. "My attitude is, I'm here to win the job—we all feel that way—but I'm also here to help him. I've been in his shoes. You don't get a lot of reps when you're not the starter, but you've got to be out there taking mental reps, going through the play like you're running it."
Tebow has to adapt from Urban Meyer's spread offense at Florida, in which he operated almost as a Wildcat fullback-quarterback. He has to learn a new playbook and a more traditional pro-style offense. Even more taxing: He has to completely overhaul the way he throws the ball.
"Look at this," McDaniels said in his office, cuing up digital video from a rookie minicamp less than four weeks earlier. A close-up camera had recorded throw after throw by Tebow on his first day as a Bronco, and on each one his torso rotated more than 90 degrees as he released the ball. "Spinning like a top," McDaniels said. "Imagine you're throwing darts and your body is spinning like this. You can't have the control you want. How's your release point going to stay the same?" McDaniels stopped the tape, then put on video from the previous day. Here was Tebow, a hand towel stuffed in his right armpit to force his right arm to stay tight to his rib cage as he threw. The motion was more compact, faster, and he appeared to have lost no velocity from the first day's throws. "Now that looks like a quarterback," McDaniels said.
By the last weekend in May, Tebow had had 12 sessions of 100 or more throws, working on mechanics with either Josh or Ben McDaniels, trying to erase what had become second nature to him. Even what he learned from pro tutors in the two months before the draft, refining his motion to account for the wasted movement, doesn't apply much now. The McDaniels boys have him doing it differently—again. The goal, of course, is for this new motion to become natural, so that when Tebow takes the snap he's thinking only about making the play. "Can we get this to be consistent by August?" Josh McDaniels says. "I don't know."
Tebow wasn't there by the end of May. One day he lasered a pass to Eddie Royal in the back of the end zone during seven-on-seven work. In the film review session McDaniels praised him—"Good throw, Timmy! Boom!"—then noticed that Tebow's right arm hadn't remained tight to his body; his muscle memory hadn't kicked in. The throw was pinpoint. The mechanics were shoddy.
"I know I can make good throws and still not be fundamentally correct," Tebow said. "I think when I'm consistent, my accuracy will increase. That's the point I've got to get to."
Aaahhh," said Tebow, fresh from an afternoon weightlifting session. "Blue towel today. Nice." He wedged the towel under his right armpit and got down to business.
On a short indoor practice field, another member of the McDaniels brain trust pitched in to work with the young quarterback during a 4 p.m. session. Thom McDaniels, a 61-year-old northeast Ohio high school coaching fixture who was in Denver to visit his sons, snapped the ball to Tebow as Ben McDaniels quietly tutored the QB. Josh and Ben both quarterbacked for their dad at McKinley High in Canton but were beaten out for starting jobs in college. The two are putting to use their father's time-tested techniques, the product of years spent studying mechanics and attending clinics and practices with top QB coaches. Thom has avoided backseat driving, and on this day he said nothing to Ben or to Tebow. He simply snapped the ball to the rookie, who threw to assistant equipment manager Mike (Harry) Harrington. Over and over.
Laying down another folded blue towel to indicate where Tebow's feet should go, Ben had his student take precise three-step drops, plant and then throw to Harrington at the sideline. "The shorter your stride, the more closed it is," Ben said. "And the faster you get. Always end on balance."
"Yessir," said Tebow. With him, it's always yessir or nosir, years of repetition having blended each phrase into one word.