PHILADELPHIA -- This is the Tim Tebow effect: A wisecracking football coach who has traded and released a bunch of Philadelphia Eagles fan favorites, calls him “Timmy” as if he’s discussing a favorite nephew.
Recently during training camp, three young women stood along the sideline, staring at one of the practice fields. There, working with a member of the Eagles’ training staff, was Tebow. One of the women said, “He is so beautiful.”
A few moments later, Tebow walked directly to the three, introduced himself, shook their hands, asked their names and autographed scraps of paper.
Tebow is working as hard as anyone to make the most of what is probably his last chance in the NFL. Wide receiver Riley Cooper, who caught passes from Tebow while they were teammates at Florida, said his former roommate stares into his iPad playbook every night.
Tom House, the throwing mechanics expert who has worked with Tebow for the past few years, called to say that he wouldn’t be interviewed for this story. House is happy to talk about the biomechanics of throwing a football or a baseball, but he won’t talk about specific athletes unless they give their permission.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly signed Tebow to a one-year contract in April. It is possible that Kelly has a secret plan for using Tebow, but the coach has gone out of his way to douse such speculation.
Kelly has made a point of reaffirming that Tebow was not signed to run gadget plays or be the team’s special weapon on two-point conversions or short-yardage situations. Indeed, Kelly has turned his nose up at the NFL rule change designed to encourage two-point conversions.
The new rule moved the line of scrimmage for extra point kicks to the 15-yard line. The Eagles proposed an alternate rule that would also move the line of scrimmage to the 1-yard line for two-point conversion tries. That proposal was rejected. Two-point attempts remain at the 2-yard line.
Tebow may seem like the perfect fit to run short yardage plays, but Kelly has stressed the quarterback’s role isn’t limited.
“Tim is not a gadget guy,” Kelly said. “I think Tim is a quarterback, and I think he's proven that so far when he's been out here.”
As a first-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 2010, Tebow won a playoff game in his second NFL season. But the Broncos acquired Peyton Manning, sending Tebow on a nomadic journey looking for another chance.
He was with New York Jets in 2012 and the New England Patriots in the 2013 preseason. Since being released by the Patriots, Tebow has been out of football, doing TV analysis work and training with House in anticipation of his next opportunity.
That opportunity has come with the Eagles. Through two preseason games, Tebow has completed 8 of 17 passes for 82 yards. Against the Colts, he ran around right end for a touchdown, ending with a vintage Tebow-style dive toward the pylon. Against the Ravens Saturday night, Tebow took off on a 26-yard run around left end.
“After that, the outside linebackers and ends were playing wide,” Tebow said. “They were trying to get up the field and get shots at our quarterbacks. Yeah, you try to go throughout your reads. I might try to change it up a little bit, but the coaches game plan for it and we have to execute.”
Ultimately, Tebow will have to prove himself a capable enough passer to make the roster. He has two more preseason games to do it.
This isn’t the first time Tebow has been in this situation.
Tebow played in nine games, starting three, as a rookie in Denver. He completed 41 of 82 passes for 654 yards, with five touchdowns and three interceptions. In his second season in Denver, Tebow started the last 11 games of the season. The Broncos won seven of those starts, winning to the AFC West title.
After a stint with the Jets, Tebow spent the 2013 preseason with the Patriots before being cut. From there, Tebow worked with House and his associates in Southern California. House described Tebow’s progress earlier this year in an interview with USA Today.
“He’s turned himself from a quarterback who can run and pass a little bit to somebody that can do both,” House told USA Today. “Is he an elite passer? Probably not, but he can probably pass enough, with enough efficiency, accuracy and velocity to make it a little bit harder on the defense. He’s not one-dimensional anymore, so I think he’s done a great job.”
After signing Tebow, Kelly flew out to California to visit House’s facilities on the USC campus. He said he wasn’t specifically there to discuss Tebow, but rather to familiarize himself with House’s methods. It was telling when Kelly said this after Tebow’s performance in the Eagles’ first preseason game.
“That's the big concern with everybody coming in, is has he really changed?” Kelly said. “I think he's sequencing better. He's got his feet underneath him. When the guys ran the right routes and he had the opportunity to throw the football, I thought he threw the ball really well.”
So the door appears to be open for Tebow to get a fair chance. Now it’s a matter of whether Tebow can walk through it.
“I am getting more comfortable every day,” Tebow said. “I am getting opportunities to get reps in practice and come out here and play in a game. I am definitely getting more comfortable. It’s just continuing everything, decision making, footwork and throwing it to the right place.”
If he keeps throwing it to the right place, Tebow will find that Philadelphia is the right place for him.