FOXBOROUGH — Tebowmania, it turns out, might be as boring as a Bill Belichick press conference.
Belichick answered 28 questions about Tebow on Tuesday before the Patriots held their first day of minicamp, and he used a lot of three-word answers to describe how Tebow became a Patriot: “I don’t know.”
Tebow, likewise, wasn’t very exciting on his first day in town. For most of the practice, he stood idly next to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels, taking mental notes as Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett took almost all of the snaps in team drills. For the first 1 hour, 45 minutes, the most eventful thing Tebow did was chat up owner Robert Kraft for a few minutes on the sideline.
Hard to expect much more out of Tebow on his first day, or even throughout the rest of this three-day minicamp. He had all of 12 hours to peruse the playbook before hitting the field.
Media and Patriots fans might want to get used to seeing Tebow stand around on a football field with nothing to do, though, even in training camp.
He’ll get a few opportunities to take snaps in live drills, like he did at the very end of Tuesday’s practice. Tebow worked with the third string and completed 4 of 7 passes with a couple of drops.
But Tebow is a long-term project, not someone who will be chewing up a lot of the important snaps in practice or in training camp. That’s for Brady and Mallett, who is clearly entrenched as the No. 2 quarterback and has looked “solid” this spring, Belichick said.
And that’s assuming Tebow even makes the 53-man roster. According to reports, he received a two-year deal worth minimum salaries with no guaranteed money. The Patriots can cut him at the end of training camp without having to pay him a dime. Even if he makes the team, Tebow might be inactive for all 16 games, as many teams don’t keep three quarterbacks active on game days.
But there’s plenty of evidence to argue that signing Tebow was strictly a football move — namely, that they waived Mike Kafka, the previous No. 3 quarterback, to make room for Tebow. If signing Tebow was about making a statement to the Jets or doing a favor for good buddy Urban Meyer, Belichick probably wouldn’t have cut Kafka.
Tebow — assuming he makes the team — will do most of his work privately before and after practice, away from the prying eyes of the media. He’ll grind it out in the film room and try to improve the area of his game that sorely needs it: recognizing defenses.
He’s never been adept in being able to diagnose coverages and pressures before the snap, and he has taken too long to process the coverage during the play. He has made up for it over the years with an incredible ability to scramble and improvise, but the cognitive side of the game has never been his specialty.
At the University of Florida, Tebow’s inability to read a defense led to him suffering a brutal concussion when he didn’t see an unblocked defender charging right at him. In the NFL, it led to him losing his job in Denver, and rarely getting off the bench in New York.
A recent article in ESPN Magazine said that in Denver, Tebow would routinely have to be told a set of plays two or three times, and he was subsequently flagged for a league-high seven false starts. In New York, he couldn’t outperform Mark Sanchez, which shouldn’t have been that hard to do.
“We weren’t ready to change the whole offense for Tim Tebow. That wasn’t going to happen,” former Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff said on ESPN on Tuesday. “And he just wasn’t as proficient as Mark was in the regular offense that we were running.”
An improved throwing motion isn’t going to help if Tebow can’t read the defense, and that weakness was on full display in the short time he was allowed to play during Tuesday’s practice.
On his second pass attempt of the drill, he took the snap and held on to the ball and scanned the field for 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 seconds before finally rolling out of the pocket and firing a wobbly pass deep down the sideline for an incompletion.
Same thing on his fifth attempt, although this time the pass was a low line drive over the middle that bounced off a sliding receiver’s chest. And again on his sixth attempt, though he completed this pass to the tight end in the right flat.
In a real game, Tebow would have been sacked, or would have rolled out of the pocket to make some Tebow Magic.
But the reason the Patriots were willing to take a chance on Tebow is that he’s never been afraid to put in a little hard work. For proof, check out the plaque of his speech adorned on the outside wall of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at UF, and check out how the Gators did in 2008.
“Every day is a lot of pressure once you walk in the doors. I’m pretty sure he can handle that,” said Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, Tebow’s teammate at Florida.
Tebow will be plenty accountable in New England, where the Patriots are offering his career one last lifesaver. There’s little doubt that he’ll be one of the first to arrive at the facility each day and one of the last to leave.
Fans and media just won’t see much of him.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.