FAIRHOPE, Ala. — It was a risk for Tim Tebow to pack his bags and head to the Senior Bowl, knowing he would be practicing before big crowds in a pro-style offense and without the comfort of the spread formation he functioned in so well at Florida.
Tebow gambled, though, and it didn't pay off on the first day of practice here. He found himself taking snaps under center Monday, rather than lining up farther away from the line of scrimmage in the shotgun formation — something he did for virtually his entire career with the Gators — and things did not go well. There were several botched center-to-quarterback exchanges on snaps, some of his throws sailed either too high or too far from receivers for them to get even close to making a catch, and his release looked far too slow.
"I don't think he was at his best today, but I think he was OK," said Marc Trestman, who worked with Tebow in Miami for a few days this offseason. Trestman, the head coach of the CFL's Montreal Alouettes for the past two seasons, was an NFL assistant from 1985-2004, serving as an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach, and sometimes both, in stops with eight different teams, including the Dolphins, Raiders, Cardinals and 49ers.
"I've seen (Tebow) throw the ball better, but you look at all these kids today, they're playing in a new system of football," he said. "There is a lot of thinking going on, and especially at the quarterback position, but I thought he did well today. I don't think he hurt himself. I don't think anybody hurts themselves here."
Part of the allure that surrounds Tebow is what he offers in terms of intangibles. Teams tend to like players who are proven leaders with a history of winning games, and he did plenty of that in college.
"The 'it' factor is the unknown factor that allows quarterbacks to give a team hope," Trestman said. "... (Tebow) can make all the throws, he's got mobility. He's going to be a quick decision maker, and he's certainly tough and courageous. Those are physical tools it takes just to get on the field.
"Then there's the 'it' factor. Nobody's going to doubt that Tim Tebow has that 'it' factor. He does, so there are just a lot of really positive things laid out there. He's going to be under the critical eye of a lot of people, but at the end of the day, he's going to find a way to win for you, and isn't that what the position's all about, anyways?"
Tebow said it's going to take time for him to get comfortable with his new teammates on the South team and was clearly confident that things will improve as the week goes on.
"Just getting used to it is frustrating," he said. "Sometimes you don't want to drop the ball under center, do little things like that, but it just takes time to get used to the center."
He's still very early in his transition to playing in an NFL offense. Some, like Trestman, say Tebow has it all and will do very well as a quarterback. Others aren't sure and suggest it will take years for him to develop into a capable QB. There are some who argue he would be better off utilizing his strength and speed as an H-back.
All that is known for certain is his unique skill set has captured the attention of league evaluators, and there is probably no other Senior Bowl participant who has received as much hype and scrutiny.
"I've been pretty used to dealing with a lot of criticism since I was in probably eighth, ninth grade," Tebow said. "Yeah, I can handle it. I'm a pretty self-motivated person, but if anything, it just adds a little more motivation out there."
Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano is serving as Tebow's head coach on the South team this week, and he said he has already seen improvement in terms of his quarterbacks' comfort with taking snaps under center during the course of practice Monday. Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson and West Virginia's Jarrett Brown are the South's other two signalcallers.
"Our three quarterbacks right now all are guys that obviously spent an awful lot of time in the shotgun, so getting them under center right now on a regular basis is something that obviously all the teams are going to want to see," Sparano said. "You have to operate under the center in our league. That's going to be important. I think that combination takes a little bit of time. As the week goes on, that will get better and better. In fact, it got better during practice today."
It's going to have to get a lot better if Tebow is going to create the perception that this transition won't be as difficult as some have predicted.
Watch for multiple postings each day this week from the Senior Bowl, including blogs.
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