Can Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels Really Fix Tim Tebow?
Guess what, Tim Tebow is finally fixing his mechanics this offseason!
If that sounds a bit like deja vu for you, it's because we've heard this narrative before. In 2009, the Florida Gators hired quarterback coach Scot Loeffler to mentor Tebow and help his throwing mechanics. The next spring, before the draft, Tebow famously worked out with current Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman to get his mechanics ready to be drafted in the first round.
Every offseason, the storyline is trotted out that Tebow has, once again, fixed what has ailed his troubled throwing. This year, Vinny Testaverde and Chris Weinke had their turn as gurus de jour and, once again, Tebow is ready to be a capable NFL passer.
Maybe, but probably not.
Personally, I have felt that the New England Patriots were a good fit for Tebow ever since it was rumored that he would be leaving Denver. The Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer connection is a big factor there, as well as the Patriots' low-key attitude with the media. They can insulate Tebow as much as anyone from the media circus that has enveloped his NFL career thus far.
Moreover, Tebow—even as a QB—needs to buy in to a wrinkle-filled offensive package. Not only do the Patriots have the personnel and the coaching to assist that buy-in, they also have the clout to convince Tebow that they're right. This is the polar opposite of what the Jets did last year, asking Tebow to bulk up for a role he never played.
Still, if Tebow is going to succeed at the NFL, he will need to throw the ball better than he has. It's what separates him from quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III—those guys can all throw. Make no mistake about it, Tebow has arm strength on par with those guys, he's just not using his natural talent as well as they are, and that's been a big problem for him.
If the Patriots really want a fullback/personal punt-protector/H-back/erstwhile tight end, they have multiple guys on the roster—Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, LeGarrette Blount—who could fill that role as well as Tebow.
No, Belichick and McDaniels need to fix Tebow to validate his presence on the team past training camp. To do that, they need to finally and permanently find a way to tap into all of his natural arm strength and intangibles by making him a polished NFL passer.
Tebow's footwork is just as terrible—probably more so—than his arm mechanics. Testaverde said as much after working out with him:
Chris and I looked at Tim careful and we were both amazed. Everybody has been focusing on his throwing motion, trying to fix that, but nobody had picked up his footwork. His footwork was all screwed up. Chris and I looked at each other after about four or five throws, and we saw the same thing. We got his footwork fixed. His throwing motion is now a non-issue.
Hear that guys? We can all go home—Tebow's ready for the Hall of Fame!
In all seriousness, though, Testaverde is correct. Tebow's athleticism and tendency to run often mess up his footwork even in the pocket. Because he is continually trying to weigh his options of running or passing, his footwork suffers.
Take this play for example. Ignore, for the moment, that this is a tiny little screen pass and Tebow looks like he's about to heave the ball over some mountains. Just look at his foot placement. The front foot is pointed at the sideline rather than the target. This bows his leg in awkwardly and opens his shoulders up too wide toward the sideline.
If this were a longer pass, it would almost assuredly be incomplete or intercepted because Tebow isn't going to get half the torque on this pass that he would want because he's just slinging it with his arm.
Tebow's footwork is consistently poor, but it isn't consistent in the way it is poor. Sometimes, it's a front step that is too elongated. Other times, it is a little step or no step at all. Still other times it's a throw off of his back foot off of a scramble.
Check out the follow-through above. That is a screenshot from directly after he threw a touchdown pass. His footwork was a mess, which shortened his upper body motion and created one of the most awkward-looking post-throw stances I have ever seen.
Now, look at the catch and try to tell yourself that it was pinpoint aim. It wasn't. It was a gunslinger-type throw that could have been intercepted. Instead, cornerback William Gay did nothing to actually stop the pass and it was brought in for a touchdown that Tebow receives credit for, but barely deserves.
Upper Body Mechanics
This is an example of Tebow showcasing good upper body mechanics throughout his drop. Now, this doesn't happen very often, so you treasure moments like this and keep pictures in lockets close to your heart.
What coaches typically look for in a drop is ball at chest height, shoulder dipped and back elbow up, but naturally so—about shoulder height. These are things that are typically ignored in many elite quarterbacks because they are fine points of mechanics and few coaches mess with already-good results. With Tebow, on the other hand, some of his upper body mechanical quirks are just as problematic as his footwork and arm motion.
Here, the ball is at a decent height, although I would quibble with it in a practice setting. The big problem, though, is the elbow. Darn that elbow! This throw is doomed because Tebow's elbow (say that five times fast) is too low. That means a big ol' windmill-style wind-up and decreased velocity on the throw.
It's lazy. He knows better.
With the shoulders, ball height and elbow out of alignment (combined with inconsistent footwork), the way Tebow opens up to throw often changes from play to play.
In this shot, you can see that Tebow's elbow is dropped and his shoulders are closed off to his target as he starts to throw. It's a short little swing pass, so you'll see this with other quarterbacks on quick passes out of shotgun, but with Tebow it's habitual.
This is the same throw from a different angle, showing how the footwork and upper body mechanics leads to an awkward arm slot, wobbly pass through the air and slow release. If you can figure out what the heck he's doing with his back foot, let me know and I'll pass it along to McDaniels, because he clearly has his work cut out for him.
Is his arm broken here? Seriously, did it snap off, or is this some X-Files episode where aliens come to Earth with weird double-jointed shoulders. A quarterback's arm never belongs back there unless Vince Wilfork put it there.
No, really, it hurts my soul just looking at it.
This wind-up and delivery is what has made Tebow's mechanics famous. Sadly, like his footwork, it's not even consistent in the way it is bad. Google image search "Tim Tebow Throw" and you'll find a few dozen different arm slots that he's thrown out of over the years alongside various angles he's tried to launch the ball from.
This throw is about to be incomplete (the majority of Tebow's passes are), and a big part of this is his long throwing motion, which allows defenders to catch up to receivers who've created separation.
To make matters worse, the above is the same play—shown via coaches' tape—just a few seconds sooner. This was a swing pass, not a heave down the sideline. Tebow's slow delivery couldn't take advantage of the window he was provided at this stage of the play. So, rather than a high-percentage throw, Tebow was left with a chuck and a prayer.
He should get that tattooed onto his body.
What If It Doesn't Work?
Let's say this project doesn't work. What then?
Well, Mike Freeman has already reported this isn't supposed to be a long-term arrangement anyway:
NFC GM to me: "Belichick signed Tebow as a favor to Tebow because he likes the guy. Tebow won't be there by end of training camp."— mike freeman (@realfreemancbs) June 11, 2013
So, if the great Tebow Fixing of 2013 ends up like every annual event since 2009, maybe Tebow just rides off into the sunset and starts planning his congressional run—he'd win in a landslide. He better be ready to "go pro in something other than sports" because there is no room in football for a quarterback who can't throw, no matter how much moxie he has.
With Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett already on the roster, Tebow is a No. 3 at best. We've already talked about how the Patriots don't need another tight end. At either position, the idea of a "project" is arcane in today's NFL where every moment of practice is needed.
This is Tebow's last chance. After the Jets' debacle, he probably deserved this one. He won't get another.
It's the long shot of long shots. If Tebow turns into a viable NFL backup or package player who can contribute to a playoff contender, Belichick and McDaniels will have cemented their respective legacies as offensive geniuses. If he flounders, Belichick will not hesitate to cut Tebow and won't care what the media and fanbase have to say about it.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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