Tim Tebow did everything in his power to earn a roster spot as the Philadelphia Eagles' third quarterback during training camp and throughout the preseason. If he doesn't make the Eagles roster, teams around the league should now seriously consider him as a viable option to provide depth at the game's most important position.
It quickly became obvious the divisive quarterback improved his overall mechanics, showed the ability to make some NFL throws and got better every day. The level of play seen from Tebow this preseason was far different than the run-first quarterback last found struggling with the New England Patriots during the 2013 preseason.
As the competition with Matt Barkley ensued, Tebow's continued improvement presented a couple of traits the USC product lacked.
This particular quarterback battle came down to the wire. The fourth preseason contest is usually reserved for resting the team's starters and allowing a handful of players to actually win a job. Chip Kelly, though, continued to evaluate these two quarterbacks.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport even reported Tebow still had a legitimate chance to make the roster prior to the contest:
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
One note I mentioned while discussing looming roster cuts: It seems Tim Tebow has a very good chance to make the #Eagles.2015-9-2 00:10:21
Rarely does a competition for a team's third quarterback spot warrant national discussion, but the Eagles aren't most teams when those potential third quarterbacks are a former Heisman Trophy winner and a high-profile draft pick once considered a potential No. 1 overall talent.
Barkley might have received the nod as the starter in Thursday's contest against the New York Jets, but he certainly didn't take advantage of the situation. In fact, the former fourth-round pick, whom the Eagles traded up to acquire, finished 4-of-9 passing for 45 yards.
One throw might have proved fatal to Barkley's time in Philadelphia:
Matt Barkley. 2nd pass of the game. Picked! #PHIvsNYJ http://t.co/POb8m0mUc32015-9-3 23:14:09
The poor throw highlighted the biggest deficiency in Barkley's game: below-average arm strength. The California native simply hasn't shown the type of velocity to threaten defenses or consistently throw into tight windows. The root of his issues stems from a lingering shoulder injury.
"Overall, my arm strength is: I'm not even thinking about throwing the ball," Barkley said this week, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane. "Whereas in years past because of pain [from] that injury I was adjusting to certain areas."
Arm strength clearly isn't an issue for Tebow. The NFL also provided a wonderful example of the Florida product easily completing a pass over 40 yards downfield during Thursday's contest:
.@TimTebow can't throw with touch? 45-yard bomb. Watch the placement. #PHIvsNYJ http://t.co/IIeT0hGKou2015-9-4 01:30:15
More importantly, the elongated throwing motion isn't an issue due to meticulous work on his mechanics with private quarterback coach Tom House.
"I don't feel like I'm the same player from a passing standpoint and a mechanics standpoint," Tebow said this summer, per USA Today's Josh Peter.
House helped develop Drew Brees after his shoulder surgery in 2005, Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel, Alex Smith and even Tom Brady.
The former MLB pitching coach knows what legitimate NFL passers look like and how they approach every day of practice. Tebow hasn't reached those levels, but this is still a vast improvement.
"He's turned himself from a quarterback who can run and pass a little bit to somebody that can do both," House said. "Is he an elite passer? Probably not, but he can probably pass enough, with enough efficiency, accuracy and velocity to make it a little bit harder on the defense.
"He's not one-dimensional anymore, so I think he's done a great job."
As a true dual-threat quarterback, Tebow adds yet another variable to an offense, even if he's only included in certain sub-packages.
Barkley doesn't threaten defenses with his legs. Neither does Bradford (to say the least). Sanchez is athletic, but he's not a true running quarterback.
Kelly doesn't require a mobile quarterback behind center, but Tebow provides another option in the attack if the offensive guru wants to experiment, particularly with the change in extra-point distance this season and the potential for more two-point attempts.
Tebow's 32 rushing yards Thursday were second on the team.
"I've talked to Chip Kelly a few times and Chip is trying to make it work," former NFL head coach and current NFL analyst Jimmy Johnson told the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi. "There may be a spot for Tim on that Philadelphia team...there might be a package for him."
Running the football gives Tebow an edge, but it's his continued evolution as a passer and his hard work in this specific area that continue to impress those around him.
The signal-caller improved each week, culminating in his final preseason performance. Tebow completed 11 of 17 passes for 189 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the Jets.
His second touchdown pass showed exactly the type of player Tebow presents to a team and how he can combine his athleticism with improved passing:
Tebow. Touchdown. Magic. #PHIvsNYJ http://t.co/QfXPVo5DWL2015-9-4 01:41:47
The quarterback's mobility allowed him to avoid a free blitzer. He then kept his eyes downfield instead of running. As a result, Tebow was able to place the ball where only his receiver could make the catch for a touchdown.
His continued improvement in all of these areas didn't go unnoticed by his head coach throughout the evaluation:
Dave Spadaro @EaglesInsider
Chip Kelly: I've seen Tim Tebow improve since we signed him. He's been a lot more accurate with his passes. It's a big week for him.2015-8-31 15:23:12
None of this is to say Tebow overcame all of the deficiencies in his game that kept him out of the league for the last two seasons.
His accuracy remains an issue. After all, he only completed 58.3 percent of his passes this preseason. While it's not the most impressive statistic, Tebow's career completion percentage prior to his time with the Eagles was a paltry 47.9 percent.
The crafty lefty also needs to work on processing the defenses in front of him, quickly working his way through his progressions and throwing with more anticipation than he's previously showed.
Tebow may still be a work in progress, but he now presents more upside as a player for the Eagles or another team than Barkley does. He'll never be mistaken for a traditional quarterback behind center, which limits his usage, but each team constantly searches for any edge it can procure.
A legitimate dual-threat quarterback with improved mechanics, accuracy, a strong arm and an outstanding work ethic, Tebow is thy name.