Another Chance for Tebow?
Even though it has been over two years since he has played an NFL game, Tim Tebow continues to be a topic of interest among sports media and fans, most recently Chip Kelly. Tebow's recent workout with the Philadelphia Eagles reintroduced the possibility of his return to the NFL. However, as this possibility surfaces, so do the questions about his ability to be a starting quarterback.
These questions date back to when he was drafted with the 25th overall pick by the Broncos in 2010. As the SEC all-time leader in passing efficiency and completion percentage, its hard to argue with the numbers Tebow had put up as a college quarterback. But with spread offense college quarterbacks like Tebow, the initial concern always surrounds whether or not they can translate their skills into the pro-game.
In the case of Tim Tebow, this concern was inflated by his weak performance in the senior bowl: the first glimpse of his potential to produce in a pro-style offense. However, his performance needed to be put in perspective—the reason Tebow looked like a fish out of water was because he was a fish out of water. Developing a level of comfort in the pro-style offense can only come from repetition and experience, something Tebow has never had. Even great pro-style college quarterbacks like Peyton Manning struggled in their initial adjustment to the NFL, so a quarterback coming from a spread offense is likely to struggle in the beginning.
There is little doubt that Tebow is the type of person that is willing to put in the hard work in the film-room and on the practice field to develop in to an NFL quarterback. This is understood by scouts and general managers, however, the biggest red flag was the physical limitation that could inhibit his ability to play football at a high level: his release speed.
Tebow has a release time of 0.60 seconds as opposed to the average 0.40 seconds. While two-tenths of a second may seem minuscule, in the NFL, it can be the difference between a completed pass and a sack-fumble. A slow release limits a quarterback by extending the amount of time he needs to lock in on a target and deliver the ball on time, especially in the face of pressure. This often results in forced hurried passes that come out before the quarterback has the chance to set his footing and square his shoulders appropriately.
In the case of Tebow, this is the cause for his inconsistent accuracy. The problem is not that he is unable to setup for a pass and deliver an accurate ball because of a faulty throwing motion, rather he cannot do it fast enough. If a dartboard was placed in front of Tebow and he was given all the time in the world to square up to it, he would undoubtedly hit his target more often than not. The play that Tim Tebow is best known for is a prime example of this accuracy.
In this play, Tebow was already set throw to his first read, before Demaryius Thomas had even made his break. His feet, hips, and shoulders were square and with no pressure in his face, Tebow was able to deliver an accurate ball that led the receiver and allowed for yards after the catch. Tebow's head faced the exact location of where he was going to throw the football from the moment the ball was snapped. When given this kind of time and a preconceived notion of where to go with the football, Tebow proves to be very accurate. The throwing motion used in this play is same one he's always had, with the ball held low and brought all the way back. It would be wrong to say that these mechanics are "bad," when they are best suited and most comfortable for his body and allow him to be accurate.
Most people probably would not argue with Tom Brady for holding the ball low.
Nor would they argue with Peyton Manning or Michael Vick for pointing the ball back.
So why argue with Tebow for doing both?
While the changes that coaches and trainers are trying to make in his throwing motion may increase its speed by shortening the distance his arm travels, these changes will diminish the accuracy that Tebow has with his natural throwing motion. Furthermore, having to concentrate on his throwing mechanics during a play rather than allowing himself to naturally throw the football, Tebow's attention from the play itself is diverted. This is why Tebow will most likely revert back to his old throwing motion. This is explained thoroughly in the Sports Science analysis of Tim Tebow.
It is made evident, that Tebow's attempts to alter his throwing mechanics are not just unnecessary, but pointless; however, the problems with his throwing motion arise when his first read is not open, and he is required to move through his progression. When Tebow needs to reset in the pocket, the amount time he takes to plant his back foot and then wind up his arm often results in him releasing the ball long after the passing lane is open; unlike college football, passing lanes are usually open for less than a second in the NFL. This is why often times Tebow is picture perfect on the first read but goes to the run if his first read is bottled up due to his inability to reset and wind up his arm quickly enough. This was first exposed in the senior bowl (skip to 14:02):
It is clear that the speed of Tebow's release is the limiting factor keeping him from being a starting quarterback in the NFL. It not only hinders his ability to maintain an accurate and consistent delivery but also affects his ability to go through his progressions from the pocket. But if altering his mechanics is not the answer to resolving this issue, what is?
The answer is maintaining the throwing mechanics he is most comfortable with while improving his delivery speed by increasing the rate at which the muscles in his shoulders and hips contract. By having the ability to fire the muscles that extend his hips faster, he would no longer have to hold his back foot down as long as he currently does. Furthermore, the ability to contract the muscles that internally rotate his shoulder faster would allow his arm to move faster through space. Focusing on improving these physical abilities would allow him to improve his play from the pocket without sacrificing the throwing mechanics that led him to breaking numerous SEC passing records.
Tebow's pass release is not the only thing he should look to speed up. Being that one of Tebow's greatest assets is his ability to run the ball, it would be to his benefit to lose weight after bulking up for the Jets in 2012. While it is crucial for Tebow to develop as a passer, it is equally important for him to continue to do the things that he does best, and in order to be a successful dual-threat quarterback in the NFL, Tebow is going to have to run the ball with his feet rather than his pads. Although Tebow has the ability to hammer through defenders, lowering his throwing shoulder is probably not in his best interest.
Continuing to play the game to his strengths is going to be the key for Tim Tebow; his strengths are running the football and throwing his first read. While Tebow may never be the passer t hat Brady, Manning, or Brees is, Tebow's ability to run the ball and scramble are assets that take some of the pressure off of his left arm. And when he does have to use that left arm, he needs to have a preconceived notion of where he is going with the football before the snap of the ball to be at his best, something that can only be done with preparation and time in the film room.
Perhaps the best place to learn this is the place where Tebow-Mania was first born: Denver. Learning behind one of the best quick-draw quarterbacks of all time Peyton Manning, who knows how to dissect film better than anyone else, would be a great benefit for Tebow and would help him have better command over the game. The current high tempo, quick pass, spread offense Manning currently runs would be a great fit as well, especially with the running opportunities this style of offense can provide for a quarterback. This is not to mention the incorporation of bootlegs and rollouts in the upcoming Gary Kubiak offensive system can further facilitate the use of Tebow's mobility and ability to throw on the run.
There may be concerns about the attention that Tebow brings, but while Manning is still in Denver, there is no chance of controversies or distractions, allowing Tebow to focus solely on football. And after spending a few years behind a legendary quarterback, with the fan base he already has in Denver, it may be very possible that Tebow-Time will be back.