FAIRHOPE, Ala. -- Tim Tebow refuses to hide.
The former University of Florida quarterback won't hide from NFL scouts, even though remaining shrouded in mystery might have helped his draft status in a league that rarely resists a gamble on an unknown commodity. Tebow also won't hide his beliefs, even though he could potentially cost himself millions in endorsement opportunities.
Tebow chose to spend Monday afternoon on a high-school field in suburban Mobile with all his flaws -- never played under center, elongated throwing motion, etc. -- on display for easy codifying. Coaches from all 32 NFL teams took pen to pad and scribbled furiously with every bobbled snap and every off-target throw. Next week, with millions watching around the world, Tebow and his mother, Pam, will star in an anti-abortion ad funded by Christian group Focus on the Family.
In a way, Tebow's decision to play in the Senior Bowl and his decision to star in the ad are the same choice. He will be the quarterback he is. Coaches will draft him, or they won't. He will believe what he believes. Fans will love him, or they won't.
Tebow knows a lot of football people think he'd be better served playing tight end or H-back. He wants to play quarterback. Tebow also knows the hundreds who lined the fences Monday at Fairhope High -- if it were 1963 and Tebow wore a bowl cut instead of a flat top, he may as well have been Paul McCartney -- might not number so many after Super Bowl Sunday. Those who loved watching him play at Florida may not necessarily agree with his opinion of Roe vs. Wade. They may agree with the coalition of women's groups that has urged CBS to spike the ad. Tebow doesn't care. He is content to be a polarizing figure on and off the field. Besides, he may wind up with a net gain in the fan department. There may be plenty of Christian Tebow-haters in college bases throughout the country who change their mind about him because they're so thrilled that a young athlete will stand up for his faith and his beliefs in an era when such athletes are met with scorn by the secular crowd.
Tebow's opinion on one of the nation's most contentious issues likely formed in the womb. Had Pam Tebow followed doctor's orders in 1987 and aborted her pregnancy, there wouldn't be a Tim Tebow for TMZ to publish shirtless photographs of. The younger Tebow won't apologize for his stance, even though he knows a lot of people will hate him for it. Tebow refuses to be one of those corporate jocks who only worships tiny pictures of Benjamin Franklin. That's probably for the best; we don't tend to learn what those jocks believe in until a 9-iron hits a window.
"I don't feel like I'm very preachy about it, but I do stand up for what I believe," Tebow said. "Unfortunately, in today's society, not many athletes tend to do that. So I'm just standing for something."
On the field, Tebow will crouch. He will put his hands in a place Focus on the Family probably would find abhorrent. After playing in shotgun-based spread schemes since pee-wee ball, Tebow now must learn to play under center. At Monday's practice, coaches from all 32 NFL teams watched intently as Tebow placed his hands under the posteriors of some extremely large men.PAULINE: Day 1 Senior Bowl practice report
Monday, Tebow bobbled several snaps. This probably caused plenty of consternation for any team that has Tebow on its draft board. USC's Jeff Byers, one of the South team's centers, said it's typical for a center and quarterback to have a few rocky patches after first meeting. It is a pretty intimate relationship, after all. But Byers said as practice progressed, he didn't notice anything unusual about Tebow's reception of the snap or his release into his drop. Byers also said the fact that Tebow is a lefthander didn't add a degree of difficulty. "He's a lefty?" Byers asked, laughing. "Man, I don't watch the quarterbacks."
Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, whose staff is coaching Tebow's South team this week, said quarterbacks such as Tebow and West Virginia's Jarrett Brown who worked predominately from the shotgun will have to learn to get cozy with their centers. "That's what people want to see, and they're going to have to operate under center in this league," Sparano said. "I think that combination will take a little time. As the week goes on, it will get better and better. In fact, it got better during practice."
During this week's practices, Tebow will have a chance to prove he didn't win 35 games in three years as a starter just because of Florida coach Urban Meyer's innovative scheme. Tebow wants NFL coaches to see his passion. He wants them to see how he manages a huddle, how he reacts when a teammate drops a pass, how he responds with a 320-pound defensive tackle trying to flatten him.
Tebow also understands he risks failing spectacularly this week. If he doesn't master the snap, if his footwork is clumsy, if he can't judge when he should throw to his third option instead of his second, teams will downgrade him. Those four years of highlights he produced at Florida will get buried under an avalanche of negativity.
At the moment, Tebow's quarterbacking future remains a mystery. It's almost impossible to find a football person who will utter a critical word about him on the record, even though the results of drafts past suggest NFL personnel men don't like players who, like Tebow, dip the ball low before they throw.
Marc Trestman, who coached Bernie Kosar in Cleveland and Steve Young in San Francisco and who worked with Tebow on the mental game earlier this month, said coaches can't simply throw out Tebow's intangibles because he doesn't necessarily fit in a predetermined box. "There is no formula," Trestman said, "for greatness."
There is no formula, but an NFL quarterback must be able to perform a few basic tasks. He must be able to take the snap from the center, drop to an assigned depth quickly and read the routes of several receivers before throwing into an opening about the size of the average Honda Accord's driver's side window. If Tebow can do all that, he can succeed in the NFL as a quarterback. If he can't, he won't.
It almost certainly would have been more prudent for Tebow to skip the Senior Bowl and hope some team would take a flier on him. The potential reward is great -- a good showing this week could push him into the first round -- but a team may have taken that risk anyway. A poor week here, though, could be disastrous, chasing away the teams that might have been willing to gamble on Tebow early in the draft.
But Tebow prefers to stand or fall on the field rather than win a high draft pick with combine throws and bench presses. "I never really think about it as going up or falling down," he said. "I really look at it as an opportunity for me to compete, and it's never been anything that I shied away from."
He also won't shy away from controversy off the field. Tebow has been a gridiron and political lightning rod since high school, so he's accustomed to controversy. But before, that controversy played out on a smaller stage. It doesn't get much grander than the Super Bowl. Superman may wear Tim Tebow pajamas, but companies who want to appeal to customers of every political stripe may consider Tebow advertising Kryptonite after the Super Bowl ad airs. Tebow doesn't care. Just as he refuses to hide his game, he refuses to hide his beliefs. "I know some people won't agree with it," Tebow said. "But I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe, and I'm never shy about that."