AFC East: Jimmy Sexton
It's time for NFL eyes to inspect the renovations.
Few workouts have created as much anticipation as the University of Florida's pro day. Tebow, viewed by some as a collegiate supernova and others as an overrated novelty, will debut a refurbished throwing motion he hopes will sway the skeptics.
There's a heightened curiosity over how Tebow will perform. After weeks of special tutoring and no public displays aside from Internet video snippets, you wonder if the charismatic left-hander will emerge from the tunnel and hurl bombs right-handed.
One of Tebow's personal coaches predicts the NFL scouts will be impressed.
"I think it's going to change some opinions," said Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, one of four gurus who has been trying to transform Tebow from a spread-offense concoction into a pro-style prospect.
Scouts won't see a completed project Wednesday or whenever teams hold their private workouts with Tebow. The Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks already have signed up for special screenings.
But Mazzone is confident Tebow will show he's worth drafting as a quarterback and isn't meant to be converted into an H-back.
"He looks totally different to me," said Mazzone, a longtime college coordinator and quarterbacks coach who served as New York Jets receivers coach from 2006 through 2008. "This guy's an NFL quarterback in my eyes."
The Bills have the only unsettled quarterback position in the AFC East, but the New England Patriots are an interesting possibility.
The Patriots have only two quarterbacks on their roster. Backup Brian Hoyer is an undrafted sophomore. Bill Belichick, a close friend of Gators coach Urban Meyer, might be willing to pick up a rare competitor such as Tebow and groom him.
"I want this guy on my football team because he's got so many traits," Mazzone said. "I'm not getting paid to do this or to say this, so I can say how I feel. They always talk about the 'it factor' that the great quarterbacks have got. Well, he definitely has the 'it factor,' a great presence about him."
Nobody will argue that Tebow possesses off-the-charts intangibles. Those traits, however, are mitigated by several on-field weaknesses that make it difficult to imagine his collegiate star power translating to the NFL.
- Tebow has a really elongated throwing motion that hasn't improved even with extensive coaching.
- He tends to lock onto receivers.
- He usually doesn't look off the safety.
- He doesn't read blitzes or other pass-rushing tricks very well.
- The step forward he takes on play-action fakes is something he almost certainly will not be able to do in the NFL.
- He is very uncomfortable working in a pocket environment.
To overcome these issues, Tebow has been working with a team of instructors that includes Mazzone, former Jets offensive coordinator Zeke Bratkowski, former Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche and Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman.
Mazzone hooked up with Tebow as a favor. They share the same agent, Jimmy Sexton, who also represents such major clients as Miami Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells, Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, whom Mazzone coached at North Carolina State.
Sexton reached out to Mazzone for a favor after Tebow blundered his way through Senior Bowl week in January.
"That was not a very good showing for Tim," Mazzone said.
All of the doubts surrounding Tebow's pro potential were on display at the Senior Bowl.
He spent his college career taking shotgun snaps for the Gators and was dazzling in the process. He became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. He played on two national championship teams. He broke myriad records.
But he didn't sparkle at the Senior Bowl. With Sparano and his staff running the South team practices, Tebow struggled with direct snaps from the center. He fumbled a few, looked clumsy on his drops and obviously pressed. Passes routinely failed to find their targets.
In the game, Tebow completed eight of 12 passes for 50 yards. We haven't seen him throw since. He chose not to throw at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last month.
That decision has intensified the anticipation for Wednesday.
Mazzone claimed scouts will notice some key differences compared to what they saw at the Senior Bowl.
Mazzone said Tebow has a faster release, his throws have more velocity because of an improved power step and he obviously is more comfortable with his drops because of instruction and repetition. All of that, Mazzone noted, has increased Tebow's confidence and decisiveness in drills.
"I'm not trying to change the guy's motion," Mazzone said. "I went back and looked at his high school film. He's got a great motion.
"It's different when you're in the gun your whole life and not making five- and seven-step drops. Bad feet make bad throws. We worked a lot on loading up his back foot, having good posture and getting his feet and body more involved with his throw.
"Now, their next question is going to be, 'Can he do this with a full NFL front four rushing him?'"
Tebow questions won't stop for a long time. They'll persist through the draft, into training camp, through preseason and well into his career.
Mazzone doesn't envision a problem with that, acknowledging that Wednesday will be merely the first of many steps toward making over Tebow.
"He's got great confidence and he wants to be That Guy," Mazzone said. "I don't know any guy that's truly competitive, and you tell him he can't do something and he doesn't have a chip on his shoulder."
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
|Former Michigan quarterback Chad Henne is the Dolphins' lone unsigned draft pick.|
The Palm Beach Post is reporting the Miami Dolphins have signed defensive end Phillip Merling, their second-round pick out of Clemson, to a four-year contract.
That leaves former Michigan quarterback Chad Henne the club's lone unsigned draftee on the eve of training camp in Davie, Fla. Buffalo Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin is the AFC East's only other draft pick without a deal.
Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland earlier this week told local radio station WQAM he's "optimistic" everybody would be under contract by Saturday morning.
The Dolphins had been signing rookies at a furious clip. They remarkably got Jake Long done before they drafted him. Ireland later went on record as saying he wanted all of his rookies on board by July 1.
But Merling and Henne -- both second-rounders -- turned out to be a tad trickier than expected.
Merling's contract situation was fascinating. His agent is Jimmy Sexton, who also represents Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells.
Conflict of interest, anyone?
In addition, Merling was taken No. 32 overall, normally the last first-round choice. But the Patriots were stripped of their first-round pick, moving everybody else up a notch and making No. 32 the first pick of the second round.
So Merling's agent could argue -- to his client, Parcells -- that Merling should be considered a first-round talent. Parcells could gently remind the man who gets a cut of his contracts that Merling wasn't taken in the first round.
And I'm sure they would share a good laugh.
Henne has been more difficult to sign simply because he's a quarterback. He was the fourth one taken and the 57th overall selection. The first two QBs off the board -- Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco -- are under contract, but Brian Brohm was taken one pick ahead of Henne and remains unsigned by the Green Bay Packers.
By the way, Henne's agent is Justin Schulman. He also represents Brohm. Oh, and second-year Dolphins quarterback John Beck, too.