Commentary

Can Tim Tebow's mechanics be saved?

Maybe, maybe not. But he certainly isn't suffering from a shortage of counsel.

Originally Published: February 17, 2012
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

It was such a perfect line -- dead solid perfect, as Dan Jenkins might've said -- that it bears repeating. In Peter Yoon's piece here describing Tim Tebow's offseason work with QB guru Noel Mazzone, Mazzone attempted to precisely explain the effect that Tebow's throwing motion has on otherwise reasonable people.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesSo where's the problem? Release point? Footwork? Arm angle? Or are Tim Tebow's mechanics beyond repair?

"It's kind of like a golfer who hit that bad drive," said Mazzone, UCLA's new offensive coordinator. "Every other guy in the foursome can tell you what you did wrong, and all three opinions are different."

Absolutely. But the differing advice isn't really the point, is it? No, the point is that every guy in the foursome can tell you're in trouble off the tee. They can tell it just by watching you hook that bad boy into the woods one time.

And thus, for Tebow, does the search for the holy grail continue.

Unwilling to accept the idea that this may be all there is, both Tebow and the Denver Broncos are wholesale behind the concept of going back to the drawing board. For Tebow, that means reuniting with Mazzone, who worked with the quarterback before the 2010 NFL draft and again before the 2011 season. (Maybe the third time's the charm?)

For the Broncos, it means putting Tebow on a practice field with John Elway for a while, once Tebow is done working with Mazzone in Los Angeles. Surely Elway has some fixed ideas about how a 46.5 percent regular-season completion rate can be improved.

No one who has followed the Tebow story would be the least bit surprised to hear that the quarterback is going full-throttle toward his goals. Whatever else might happen in the Tebow story, he won't fail as an NFL quarterback on the basis of work ethic. The man is trying to leave nothing to chance.

[+] EnlargeShaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Kevork DjansezianNever the twain did meet: a foul line comfort zone and Shaquille O'Neal.

But what if, in the end, he is exactly this flawed? What if he's the QB equivalent of Shaquille O'Neal at the free throw line? What if, no matter what anyone says or suggests or mandates, there is only so much that Tebow can do with the arm God gave him?

You remember Shaq. Apart from Wilt Chamberlain, he was the worst free throw shooter ever among great players. He left it short; he bounced it long. He missed the rim. He shot knuckleballs. From early in his career through to its conclusion, the smartest play down the stretch of any game in which O'Neal appeared was to foul him every time he got close to the hoop.

There were only about a billion people who stepped up and offered to "fix" O'Neal's awkward motion and release at the line, and at one point it seemed as if no suggestion was too weird to be considered. To his credit, O'Neal gave many of the ideas a try.

Result: nada. Shaq retired as a 53 percent free throw shooter. He missed 5,317 regular-season chances, which is stunning in its own right. He told reporters he eventually stopped taking advice because it was making him worse; but by the end, he was literally aiming the ball at the hoop and shooting basically with his fingertips -- no wrist-flick, no rotation, no nothin'. It was painful to watch.

Tebow's passing doesn't compare in that way. His stuff is not cringe-inducing; it's simply ineffective. But one thing Tebow and O'Neal have in common is the experience of having just about anybody who ever played the game thinking he could fix the problem. Just lemme in there for a day or two. Former QBs, many of them now broadcasters, and the guy down at the end of the block all shower free advice upon the former Heisman Trophy recipient. It's footwork. It's the release point. It's the system. Surely it is something.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow & Jim Kelly
AP Photo/David StlukaHall of Fame QB Jim Kelly met with Tebow earlier this month at the NFL Honors show. S'pose they talked mechanics?

And that brings us to another commonality, which is the comfort of seeing really great athletes make mistakes. I think the sort of casual flaws in Tebow's game make him more accessible to us mere mortals, perhaps in the same way that seeing Shaq struggle at the line endeared him to people watching at home who couldn't help thinking, "Hell, I could make one out of every two."

The foibles reduce these superstars to life-size, at least for a minute. That's not an entirely terrible development.

Let's face it: Part of Tebow's appeal is tied to the fact that his game sometimes looks so ragged. There is something enormously encouraging about a guy who isn't polished, who struggles out there, who occasionally throws the ball right into the dirt without meaning to, and who yet finds a way to grind out four quarters and maybe even grab the win. It's hopeful.

It is also bound not to last -- that is, not if any of the folks involved can do anything about it. You can count on Tebow to do his part, to keep searching for answers. He'll work with Mazzone in L.A., and he will work with Elway in Denver, and maybe there will be others. Because the one thing you can absolutely count on is the idea that this guy has a screwed-up swing off the tee -- and every other member of his foursome thinks they've got it figured out.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His book, "The Voodoo Wave," is in international release. His work, "Six Good Innings," was named a Top 10 Sports Book by Booklist. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

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