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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick arrived for his morning news conference, looked to the back of the room where 15 television cameras were lined up, then scanned the 80-plus credentialed members of the media.
He smiled briefly, perhaps noticing some familiar faces from New York from his Giants and Jets days, knowing exactly why everyone was packed into the press box at Gillette Stadium for a June minicamp; yes, a June minicamp.
It was all about Tim Tebow, Tebow-mania, the third-string quarterback who produces headlines like no other.
|Working with Tom Brady is one of several ways being with the Patriots will be different from Tim Tebow's previous NFL stops.|
One could almost see the amusement in Belichick's expression at that moment, and his response was as predictable as can be. He delivered a verbal stiff-arm to those in the room, not once mentioning Tebow in his opening remarks, instead talking about the team entering its fourth week of on-field practices this offseason … how it would be good to practice Tuesday on a wet field … that schemes were installed … how the club was better positioned to return in late July for training camp …
It was almost as if he was saying, "Tim who?"
But, of course, he knew what was coming next -- 14 straight Tebow questions that he swatted away with one-sentence answers before saying, "I think we've already talked enough about him. I think we've covered it. Anything else?"
If anyone was curious how the power of Tebow would fare against the power of Patriot, this was a preview.
With these two powerful forces aligning, this marked one of the most atypical days in Belichick's 14-year Patriots tenure. Local television stations broadcast live from outside the stadium, ESPN had on-the-scene reports, and CNN aired Belichick's news conference live. All for Tebow, a player who might not be on the final roster in early September when the games start to count for real.
As expected, the coach did his best to extinguish the circus, which climaxed when Tebow walked toward a scrum of reporters after practice around 1 p.m. ET -- media members jostling for position in a way that might have had Ed Hochuli throwing a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness -- and delivered a statement without answering questions.
"First and foremost, I just want to thank the Patriots for giving me an opportunity," Tebow began. "I'm very thankful. It's such an honor to be a Patriot and play for coach [Bill] Belichick and for coach [Josh] McDaniels, and learn under Tom [Brady] and be a part of this great franchise and very successful franchise. I found that out firsthand; lost to them several times.
"It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to working hard every single day and getting a lot better and learning under some great people.
"That's all I've got. Thank you all so much and God bless. I'm sure we'll be talking more soon."
Maybe not, actually.
Unlike during Tebow's time with the Jets, who celebrated his arrival with a much ballyhooed news conference that had the city's tabloids buzzing, Tebow is going to find out quickly how things work in New England. The veterans and captains do most of the talking. Third-string quarterbacks, on the other hand, mostly blend into the background -- if they plan to stick around.
Naturally, Tebow also will have to show some skill on the field, and Tuesday provided an initial glimpse of a quarterback who very much remains a work in progress, with a deliberate throwing motion and sporadic accuracy. He participated in individual drills until the end of practice, when he finally had a chance to lead the offense in an "opportunity" session with rookies and lesser-experienced players.
Tebow completed four passes, at one point zipping a strike across the middle to tryout receiver Chaz Schilens, his former roommate with the Jets. Another time, he couldn't find an open receiver and initially tucked the ball to run, before staying behind the line of scrimmage and throwing an incomplete pass down the left sideline.
After the practice concluded, Tebow stayed late with fellow quarterbacks Brady and Ryan Mallett for some extra work.
"He's a hard worker, a competitor, he loves the game. We need guys like that," said linebacker Brandon Spikes, who was a teammate of Tebow's at the University of Florida. "It was good to see him smile, that big smile I'm used to seeing over the last few years down in Florida."
Asked what advice he might have for Tebow, Spikes touched on the culture around the Patriots.
"Just get on board. Every day is a lot of pressure once you walk in that door -- I'm pretty sure he can handle that," he said. "He was an accountable guy down in Gainesville. I'm pretty sure he'll do it again here."
Everyone will be watching, that's for sure, even if Tebow is more in the background than in his previous stops with the Broncos and Jets. There isn't a third-string quarterback who generates more interest and attention, as evidenced by what unfolded Tuesday at Gillette Stadium, and by the Patriots themselves posting on their website that Tebow No. 5 jerseys can be preordered through their pro shop.
Surely, the Patriots weren't thinking primarily about jersey sales when they signed Tebow. And Belichick insisted Tuesday that dealing with the media crush wasn't a consideration in signing him, calling him "a talented player that is smart and works hard."
"There's a reason why he's here. I actually don't know the reason yet, but we'll see," said tight end Aaron Hernandez, who like Spikes played at Florida with Tebow. "I'm sure he'll be doing a few things here. That's up to Belichick."
While it's possible that Tebow could be used in different roles in New England should he make the team, Tuesday saw him only at quarterback, which is where his foundation will start in the team's system. Hernandez admitted that he was shocked when he initially heard the news, but insisted it won't be a distraction to him and his teammates.
"A lot of that other stuff, you don't really pay attention to, but from the outside looking in, it looks like a big mess," he said. "If you let the media become a distraction, then that's your fault. Obviously in this program, we don't let that happen. We just worry about playing football and taking care of ourselves."
That was the big takeaway Tuesday on a day unlike any other in Belichick's tenure as coach. Like one of those big collisions often seen on the football field, this was a colossal clash between the power of Tebow and the power of Patriot.
The Patriots, with Belichick setting the tone, predictably won in convincing fashion.