Gators tweak Tebow's mechanics
Tebow working on NFL future this spring
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has won a Heisman Trophy and two national championships.
In three seasons at Florida, Tebow has thrown for more than 6,300 yards with 67 touchdowns and has never thrown more than six interceptions in a season. As a sophomore in 2007, Tebow became the first player in NCAA history to run for at least 20 touchdowns and pass for at least 20 in the same season (23 and 32, respectively).
But going into Tebow's senior season, in which the Gators are a popular preseason choice to win their third national championship in four years, Florida is changing the way he plays quarterback.
After playing out of the shotgun exclusively the past three seasons, Tebow will work under center at times this fall. And new Gators quarterbacks coach Scott Loeffler has tweaked Tebow's throwing motion, turning his sidearm delivery into an over-the-top motion.
"It's called adapting," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "It's not a wholesale change, but I was concerned about it. I watched it closely. I'm always thinking, 'If it's not broken, don't change it.'"
Altering the mechanics of one of the most productive players in college football history is a gamble, to say the least. It's like tweaking the swing of a .300 hitter or changing the mechanics of a scratch golfer.
"Hopefully, they'll screw him up," said one coach at a rival SEC school.
Meyer said the changes to Tebow's throwing motion are designed to better prepare him for playing in the NFL. After leading the Gators to a 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, Tebow bypassed entering the NFL draft and instead returned to Florida for his senior season.
Tebow wouldn't say where NFL scouts projected him to be selected if he had entered April's NFL draft. NFL scouts and general managers love Tebow's production and leadership skills, but some have long been alarmed by his slow and sometimes unorthodox throwing motion.
"They said just to be myself and everything will be fine," Tebow said. "They said not to change the things that make me who I am."
But some NFL scouts are still perplexed about where Tebow will play in the NFL. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Tebow is big enough and strong enough to play other positions. He ran 475 times in his first three college seasons, most ever by an SEC quarterback. He enters his senior season with 43 career rushing touchdowns, a Florida record and tied for sixth-most in SEC history.
We really haven't changed anything about my throwing motion. What we've really worked on is my footwork and drops and making sure I get everything into my throws.” -- Florida QB Tim Tebow
Some NFL scouts look at Tebow and see a potential fullback or tight end.
"I'm just excited about the future," Tebow said. "That's been my goal since I was 6 years old -- to play quarterback in the NFL. One day, hopefully, I'll be able to accomplish it."
Todd McShay, an ESPN NFL draft analyst and director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc., doesn't project Tebow as a first-round selection in his 2010 mock draft. McShay projects quarterbacks Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Colt McCoy of Texas as top-10 selections.
"Tebow's release is a bit three-quarter, which is not ideal," McShay said. "The bigger issue is the slowness of his release. I have him projected as a second-to-third round prospect right now, but he can make big strides as a senior. Much like Pat White, Tebow will be drafted as a QB that could play another position on offense (H-back type?) and possibly a slash-role of both.
"The three biggest areas Loeffler can help him improve:
1. Get the ball out quicker
2. Progression reads
3. More consistent accuracy intermediate/vertical."
With doubts lingering about Tebow's ability to play quarterback in the NFL, Meyer said the Gators have to do everything possible to prepare him for the next level.
"We have to do Tim justice," Meyer said. "If it's going to help him, we owe it to him to do it. At the end of the day, Tim is going to be a very good NFL player. If he goes to the right team and a well-coached team, he's going to be a very productive player for a very long time."
Loeffler, who worked last season as quarterbacks coach for the Detroit Lions, has been charged with polishing Tebow's passing skills. He was hired at Florida to replace offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, who left to become Mississippi State's head coach. Mullen helped recruit Tebow to Florida and fostered a strong relationship with him over the past three seasons.
Loeffler worked with future NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady, Brian Griese and Chad Henne during his six seasons on Michigan's staff from 2002 to '07.
Tebow said Loeffler has made only slight adjustments to his throwing motion during spring practice, focusing more on his footwork and drops on pass plays.
"We really haven't changed anything about my throwing motion," Tebow said. "What we've really worked on is my footwork and drops and making sure I get everything into my throws."
Tebow is among the most accurate passers in college football, having never completed less than 64 percent of his passes in a season. He said Loeffler has encouraged him to keep his front arm closer to his body as he throws. Loeffler has also encouraged Tebow to use his legs more while throwing, kind of like how a pitcher increases his velocity by driving his legs off a mound.
"In the past, I was making athletic throws and just throwing with my arm," Tebow said.
Meyer said he noticed an improvement in Tebow's passes during the Gators' spring practices.
"It's not so much shortening up [Tebow's throwing motion], it's getting on top of the ball," Meyer said. "I can see the improvement with the spiral. I'm not as concerned about how it looks. I'm worried about, 'Get the ball there!' But I also believe in fundamentals."
During spring practice, Tebow also adjusted to taking snaps from center, after working out of shotgun formations during much of the past three seasons. In the Gators' 41-14 victory over Ohio State in the 2006 BCS National Championship Game, Florida ran 35 plays from under center. Then-senior quarterback Chris Leak was on the field for every such play. In the Gators' victory over the Sooners on Jan. 8, they didn't run a single play from under center.
"Tim was not comfortable doing it," Meyer said. "There was a ball security issue."
Tebow worked out of the shotgun during his playing career at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla.
"He's more comfortable now than I've ever seen before," Meyer said.
Meyer said the Gators are more apt to run plays from under center this season because they finally have tailbacks who can run out of the I-formation. During the past few seasons, the Gators relied on Tebow's running and on smaller, quicker running backs who were more equipped to run out of spread formations.
"We were under center a lot more this spring," Tebow said. "We'll see what we implement in the fall."
While the Gators are committed to helping Tebow prepare for the NFL, Meyer said those preparations will end when Florida begins its national title defense against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Charleston Southern on Sept. 5.
"Game one, all preparation and concern for the NFL ceases," Meyer said.
Tebow said he won't spend his senior season worrying about his NFL future, either.
"Our goal is to win three national titles in four years," Tebow said. "That is the goal and nothing else even comes close to that. I'm only going to focus on the things that I need to do to help my team win."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.