Tebow the Main Attraction at Senior Bowl
Welcome to the 2010 Senior Bowl, which might as well have been called "Tebowpalooza."
Those packed bleachers, screaming youngsters and ogling grown women -- many decked in Alabama gear, by the way -- didn't make the trip to this tiny gulf coast community to catch a glimpse of Montario Hardesty, Syd'Quan Thompson or Leigh Tiffin.
"No," nodded Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen. "I think it might have a little something to do with No. 15."
Oh, him. The guy who won two national championships at Florida, a Heisman Trophy and passed for 482 yards in the Sugar Bowl three weeks ago. That guy?
Yeah. The one most draft analysts are saying could be a third-round pick ... as an H-back.
"I'm not worried about coming out here and failing in any way," Tebow told a mob of reporters after helping lead the South squad through a two-hour practice. "I'm just coming out here to be myself. That's all there is to it."
That was the advice he got from Gators coach Urban Meyer before making the trek to Mobile, Ala., site of the 61st Senior Bowl, scheduled for Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. A year after struggling with tickets sales, this year's game is a sellout. Tebow was the big seller.
Now, he has to sell himself to the NFL.
Four years of running UF's high-powered spread offense may have garnered Tebow dozens of school and SEC records and a place among the greatest players in college football history. What it didn't do was shed much light on how Tebow might project into a conventional pro-style set, where most quarterbacks start under center and have seen a tight end and two-back formations before.
"I think even he would probably tell you he certainly has some things he could improve on with regard to running a NFL offense," Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith said.
Tebow probably would tell you, also, that all the picking at his footwork, mechanics and elongated delivery are things he's just not worried about. Those very elements were the focus of many a general manager, player personnel type and scout at Monday's workout, during which Tebow threw some nice balls, but also wobbled and scattered some others.
A few of the latter drew some groans and nods from the folks on the sidelines. As in, "Yep, we have issues."
"I've been pretty used to dealing with criticism since like the eighth or ninth grade," Tebow said. "I can handle it. I'm a pretty self-motivated person. If anything, it adds a little motivation on there."
There is no such criticism -- or need for debate, either -- about Tebow's intangibles. His work ethic, leadership and competitiveness are off the charts.
Marc Trestman, an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for nine NFL teams during his career, has done some private tutoring with Tebow. It's OK, Trestman said, not to be a finished product coming out of school. Almost 25 years ago, Trestman got a gangling quarterback with a messed-up throwing motion in Cleveland.
Bernie Kosar turned out OK.
From the feet to above the neck, players can improve.
"There is no formula for who's going to make it," said Trestman, who won a Grey Cup coaching the Montreal Alouettes last year. "Who knew Tom Brady was going to make it at the 199th pick? Kurt Warner was bagging groceries one year and the MVP the next year. And there were so many guys who thought Ryan Leaf was going to be better than Peyton Manning, so who knows? [Tebow] played four years in the SEC under the most pressured situations and completed a high percentage of passes. Today, he worked under center for one of the first times in his whole life."
He had fun doing it, too. Tebow was relaxed, engaging and even playful among his new teammates.
"He has the one thing you always look for: he knows how to win," said Miami's Tony Sparano, whose Dolphins staff is coaching the South squad. "You just can't take that lightly in any way."
Smith named two quarterbacks in the news recently who have shown the same will to not only win, but to be great.
"Tim has the mindset of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees from a preparation standpoint," said Smith, whose Jaguars are a fashionable choice as a potential landing place for Tebow, given his Ponta Vedra, Fla., ties and the club's crying need for ticket sales. "He will put in the time. How good will he become? I don't know. I don't have a crystal ball."
When Tebow left the field, he did so to a huge ovation from fans calling his name. In four months, some NFL team will do the same.
Who it will be is anyone guess.
When it will be, well, is fascinating.