Seeking Higher Level, Tebow Eyes the Center

Quarterback Seeking to Erase Perceived Weaknesses

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow returned to Florida to work on his game with quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow returned to Florida to work on his game with quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler. (By Phil Sandlin -- Associated Press)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow already has graced college football fans -- specifically those decked in blue, orange and green -- with a Heisman Trophy and a pair of national titles. He has thrown for 6,390 yards, completed 65.8 percent of his passes and tallied 67 touchdowns, while also rushing for 2,037 yards and 43 touchdowns. He has played through a broken right hand, a hyperextended knee and shoulder pain that required surgery in January. And that's not to mention all the charity work Tebow has completed in the past three years.

All of this Tebow has done, and still more is requested of the 6-foot-3, 245-pound signal caller in his senior season. Despite Tebow's immense talents and accomplishments, the one slight he hasn't been able to shake is the notion his style of play does not make him a suitable match for the NFL, at least not at his current position. His task, then, in his final collegiate season is to make minor adjustments that will better prepare him to thrive on Sundays as much as he has on Saturdays.

They say it's for the best, that it's the only way for him to achieve true longevity. How do you improve the nation's most complete college quarterback? You make him come closer.

Under the guidance of first-year quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler, Tebow's offseason development was measured in steps. Since his days at Nease High School in Jacksonville, Fla., Tebow has operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation, where the quarterback sets up roughly five yards behind the line of scrimmage and receives an elevated snap from the center.

However, despite the recent influx of spread and Wildcat formations in the NFL, many pro offenses have their quarterbacks start primarily under center. Consequently, Tebow, insistent upon playing quarterback at the next level, knew he'd have to learn the footwork of a three- or five-step drop and how to time his progressions in such circumstances -- minor modifications that might silence his lingering critics.

"I think I've improved on things," Tebow said during Florida's media day earlier this summer. "I think I've still got room for improvement, and it's just constant everyday working, trying to get better."

Florida, which returns abundant offensive weapons, plans to operate with Tebow under center at least occasionally this season. He said after a recent practice he expects the Gators to utilize some I-formation plays, as well as some split-back sets. This will afford Florida's spread-reliant offense even more variables, even more ways to get tight end Aaron Hernandez and its stable of talented running backs involved in the team's attack.

Teammates and coaches note that, just as their offense isn't undergoing a complete overhaul, their quarterback is not totally abandoning his old style of play. In case you haven't heard, they'll remind you, the old Tebow wasn't too bad.

"The thing with Tim is that you can't do too much because he's just a natural athlete, a natural football player," senior wide receiver David Nelson said in a telephone interview. "So you can't go in there too much and just completely re-change his game and re-change who he is and what he does."

This was Loeffler's charge: to tinker, not to deconstruct. Drawing from experience gained during stints with Michigan and the NFL's Detroit Lions, Loeffler set out to discover the aspects of his new charge's game that could be honed. He found that Tebow had a long windup, a sidearm delivery and a leg kick after each pass.

During spring and summer workouts, Tebow worked to quicken his delivery, throwing the ball with a more over-the-top motion. He paid attention to body position and weight transfer. As for the results, his receivers seem to be pleased.

"His balls are just starting to look prettier, more of a spiral," Hernandez said in a telephone interview. "He's still putting it in the places it needs to go. I just think he's more relaxed now and more accurate, not trying to throw it as hard. Sometimes last year, one thing he might do here and there was when you'd break he'd throw it a little behind you or something like that. Now he's always leading you, he's got his timing right."

For those concerned that the changes will limit their opportunities to rain down hyperbole upon Florida's quarterback, take heed: He's expected to be just as magnificent this season as he's always been.

"Tim is a fundamental nut and so is the quarterbacks coach," Florida Coach Urban Meyer said during Florida's media day. "They've done a great job. It's not going to be all of a sudden, 'Look at this.' It's going to be Tim Tebow."

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