By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is smiling, because he knows something the rest of college football doesn't: Tim Tebow is capable of standing back in the pocket, behind an offensive line, and throwing the football.
The defending BCS champion Gators aren't in the hands of an incapable or unprepared starting quarterback, Mullen said. Tebow still has to learn things about the new role, but the least of the Gators' worries is whether he can pass.
"He was one of Florida's all-time passers in high school," Mullen said. "People say, 'Oh, he's just a runner,' but he's always been a pretty good passer.
"He has the desire in him that he wants to be great. He understands he's a good college runner but his focus, 100 percent, [in preparing for the season] has been staying in the pocket, making throws and making the right reads to become a great player."
Tebow threw for 9,940 yards and 95 touchdowns as a three-year starter at Nease High School, one of Florida's preeminent prep football programs, and he holds the Florida state record for passing yards in a season (4,286) from his junior year as well.
But Tebow isn't an established passer in the Southeastern Conference yet, and as a freshman and Chris Leak's backup last season, Tebow played less like a quarterback and more like a fullback.
Tebow played in all 14 of the Gators' games in 2006, completing 22 of 33 attempts for 358 yards, but what he was known for were his 469 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
"That was my role last year," Tebow, 20, said. "I just have to adapt and be ready to do what they ask me to do."
Tebow's size -- 6 feet 3, 235 pounds -- made him durable, and the Gators often used his inside running ability for high-pressure third- and fourth-down scenarios. It's not surprising to Mullen that Tebow thrived in the comfort of being able to run the football a year ago.
"He's a big, physical football player. He wants to will his way to victory," Mullen said. "He feels if he has the ball on his hand, and he's running he can physically run people over and win on his own. That's how he feels he can have a big effect on the game."
But Tebow learned he didn't want to be a one-trick pony either. In the off-season, Mullen worked on Tebow's throwing motion, enabling the Jacksonville, Fla., native to get the ball out of his hand faster and with a little more zip.
Mullen wanted to break a few "erratic" habits of Tebow's and have him focus on improving his balance and throw the ball downfield rather than muscle it toward a receiver.
"I'm real comfortable with it," Tebow said. "It's just like my regular throwing motion now. It feels good, and I feel more accurate with it and it's nice being able to get the ball out faster."
Florida wants to use Tebow's multifaceted nature to its advantage, Mullen said, adding that he is more likely to move around than Leak was. If Tebow is equally comfortable passing and running, he gives the Gators another viable threat in their spread-option offense.
Tebow proved he could handle the high-pressure situations last year, when he went for it on fourth down at Tennessee. And Mullen said the respect Tebow receives from his teammates comes from how he handled himself then and how he is preparing for the Gators' season opener a little more than a week away.
When asked what he looked forward to in the upcoming season, Tebow didn't talk about increased playing time or proving doubters wrong but rather that bigger role he plays in shaping Florida's team.
"Last year there were some situations where maybe as a freshman I didn't think I should say something," Tebow said. "I have more opportunities to say something and pat guys on the back. I have more of a role to be a leader and you have more of a chance to help the other guys out."