- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Brock Huard quickly returned a phone message.
“I don’t get a chance to talk about left-handed quarterbacks much,” Huard said. "You don’t see it much. I go to a lot of youth football camps and the quarterbacks are almost always right-handed. It seems all the lefties are playing baseball. ... I’m interested to see Tim Tebow because we lefties are hard to come by.”
Huard, now a college football analyst for ESPN, is a member of a rare club. He was a southpaw gunslinger as a backup in Seattle and Indianapolis from 1999-2004. The NFL is a right-handed quarterback’s game. Only 12 left-handed quarterback have started more than 50 NFL games.
The only lefty currently slated to be a starter in 2010 is Arizona’s Matt Leinart and his status is far from solid. The only other left-handed quarterbacks currently in the NFL are backups Mark Brunell, Michael Vick, Chris Simms, Pat White and Tyler Palko.
Besides Brunell and Vick, the last truly successful left-handed quarterbacks were Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young and Boomer Esiason. Other successful left-handed quarterbacks throughout the years include Ken Stabler, Jim Zorn, Bobby Douglass and Frankie Albert.
Being left-handed is one of the reasons Tebow enters the NFL with such intense interest. The intrigue is not just whether the former Florida quarterback can prove he simply wasn’t a Saturday star with an awkward delivery. People are eager to see if Tebow can become the next lefty to succeed in the league.
“I have no doubt that he can,” said Houston quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp. "I know it can happen."
Knapp would know. He coached Young in San Francisco and Vick in Atlanta.
“I’ve seen it firsthand,” Knapp said. "Don’t tell me left-handed quarterbacks can’t make it in this league. I know it can be done.”
There’s no doubt Denver coach Josh McDaniels feels the same way. He was the talk of draft weekend last month when he traded three picks to jump up and grab Tebow at No. 25. McDaniels has said he has no problem using a left-handed quarterback. He signed Simms to be Denver’s backup last year.
Still, there are coaches and teams that aren’t open-minded to go left-hand dominant on their offense.
“I know a lot of coaches who feel like they can’t coach a left-handed quarterback,” Scouts Inc.’s Gary Horton said. "There are certain challenges that some coaches don’t want to deal with."
Added Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson: "I don’t think having a left-handed quarterback is that big of a deal, but there are scouts who don’t want to touch those guys because they feel like it could mess with their offense."
So is Denver about to embark on a huge adjustment?
“It’s an adjustment, but it is very workable,” Knapp said. “The coach has to be open to it. Obviously, Coach McDaniels is open to it.”
Knapp said it is no problem at all if the left-handed quarterback is the clear-cut starter. However, when it is an open competition, it can take time for the rest of the offense to get used to playing with a southpaw.
That could create some adjustment time in Denver’s training camp. Tebow is the only left-handed thrower in Denver’s four-man quarterback room. So, there will be modifications to make during training camp, where he will get ample repetitions, and during the season, when he plays in some special packages designed for him.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons Tebow has been mimicking the play (even handoffs) several feet behind the action of every OTA snap.
Still, Huard downplays the left-handed challenge.
“I really don’t think it will be difficult,” Huard said. “For me, there was no change. In Indianapolis, offensive coordinator Tom Moore had the same setup for me as he did for Peyton [Manning]. I often joked that I don’t think Tom even knew I was left-handed.”
Knapp said the biggest key is at right tackle. There has been some talk that Denver will neutralize star left tackle Ryan Clady because he will not be Tebow’s blindside protector. Still, McDaniels scoffed at the idea of Clady moving to right tackle last year when Simms had to play for the injured Kyle Orton.
Right tackle Ryan Harris will be Tebow’s blindside tackle. Usually, left tackles are big, athletic pass protectors, whereas right tackles are maulers who are good in the run game because right-handed quarterbacks often use the right side as the power running side.
When left-handed quarterbacks are in play, though, the right tackle needs to be athletic. Harris fits that description. He was initially brought into the league as a left tackle prospect, so Denver should be fine.
“That’s important,” Knapp said. “We kept looking to make sure we had an athletic right tackle.”
Knapp said it was his experience with Vick that the “Julius Pepperses” of the world would occasionally line up over the right tackle against Vick. Still, Knapp said the majority of the time dominant pass-rushers lined up over the left tackle regardless of the quarterback.
Knapp said the tight end now will often line up on the left side with a left-handed quarterback in obvious running situations. He said the Falcons found themselves running more to the left side with Vick. Usually, right-handed quarterbacked teams are right-side run dominant.
“It’s just little things,” Knapp said. “Really, it’s just repetition. But when it works, it can be an advantage. Defensive players are trained to play against right-handed quarterbacks. So, you can really make them uncomfortable.”
There is a perception that the spin of the ball is different for left-handed passers and it can be difficult for receivers to catch. Still, several people interviewed for this story called that a myth.
“I never had any complaints,” Huard said.
While he admits he is excited to see how Tebow adjusts to the NFL game, Huard is sure of one thing.
“Ultimately, whether Tim Tebow succeeds in the NFL or not,” Huard said, "the fact that he is left-handed will have no bearing on it.”
16hEric D. Williams
2dEric D. Williams