Weeks later, 40 yards.
By the end of the season, 50 yards.
The Lakeshore Rangers of the Jacksonville Pop Warner scene officially had a 125-pound linebacker-turned-quarterback, but coach Dave Hess noticed early on a twitch in Tebow’s throwing motion.
Not that it mattered much back then.
“He was also a pitcher in Little League, so he had the sidearm throw,” Hess said. “He went right from baseball to football as far as the throwing motion. But he could do everything on the field, all the accuracy drills, hit all the spots while on the run or planted.”
Such an anecdote has echoed throughout Tebow’s career but has come to an abrupt halt at this week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Tebow always had an elongated throwing motion that dipped somewhere between his back and his belt buckle, but he was too good and efficient to need drastic change.
Only now is he attempting to quicken a motion that became habitual ever since his younger days as a Little League pitcher in the Jacksonville area.
Tebow became high school and college football’s best player despite his motion because of his leadership, athleticism and ability to make clutch throws in the spread offense.
But this is the NFL, where cornerbacks eat up the slightest hesitation on a slant route.
Coaches who grew up watching Tebow in Jacksonville say he always had a hybrid motion—half quarterback, half pitcher with a 9 o’clock release.
The way his arm dips behind his back like a snake has actually gotten worse since he arrived at Florida, according to Hess and Craig Howard, who coached Tebow at Jacksonville Nease High School.
Online videos have shown Tebow taking about a half-second to release the ball at a high school football camp but almost a full second at his senior year at Florida.
Theories vary on how much a quarterback can change his throwing motion. An AFC scout pointed out this week that a player might not be able to truly change a motion after the age of 18.
One thing was always certain with Tebow—he can throw anything hard.
Joey Russell, an assistant baseball coach at Nease High School during Tebow’s baseball stint, said Tebow’s outfield arm equated to a fastball clocked in the high-80s to 90 miles per hour.
Tebow stopped pitching in high school because of football. He was an outfielder and first baseman as a junior.
“With throwing, it’s the way you grow up,” Russell said. “That’s just the arm slot where he’s comfortable with. They didn’t know he was going to be a Heisman winning quarterback. He just threw the way he could to have success. By the time it was time to find mechanics, he already had a set way of doing things.”
Even with the addition of NFL-savvy quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler, the Gators never overhauled Tebow’s motion because they stuck with a formula that worked.
Tebow was tailored for a spread offense that might have masked mechanical deficiencies because of the open field and less defensive congestion.
Tebow doesn’t know which style of offense he’ll find in the NFL, but he’s willing to work on his release.
“With quickening it, yeah we can work on it,” Tebow said. “But the actual release, I think it’s OK. I think there’s definitely room for improvement to quicken it…There are other guys playing in the league with similar releases.”
Kerry Collins and Byron Leftwich come to mind.
Tebow has dropped his weight from 244 to 236 pounds, which Hess believes could help his motion.
“It seems to have gotten elongated as he’s gotten bigger and stronger,” Hess said. “He was very bulky in college, which certainly helped his running through the tackles.”
As much as Tebow’s arm has been debated in the NFL process, his mental capacity to absorb an NFL offense might be the most crucial aspect if a team gives him a chance at quarterback.
Shane Matthews, a former Gators quarterback and 14-year NFL veteran, says he has no doubt Tebow can learn the ways of the NFL if given the enough time.
“NFL teams can help him develop,” Matthews said. “It will be a long process for him, but he’s certainly an NFL-caliber player who will just need time crafting all the tools to be a great quarterback. He’ll learn how to make all the reads, the footwork, everything as long as he’s with the right team.”