By JASON WILDE
INDIANAPOLIS – Mike McCarthy was in mid-sentence – and, coincidentally enough, it was an effusive, praise-filled sentence about Tim Tebow at that – when the announcement came over the Lucas Oil Stadium club loudspeaker.
“Some guy named Tebow to Podium C,” the NFL’s Randall Liu joked, knowing that the Heisman Trophy-winning Florida quarterback is the most talked-about draft prospect at this weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine – and would draw the most attention of any player during the four-day affair.
There was just one problem: McCarthy, the Green Bay Packers’ head coach, was still talking. Suddenly, he went from having a captive audience at Podium A at one end of the room to watching reporters leave him en masse. By the time the charming Tebow was playfully helping reporters with their tape recorders and jotting his name and “God Bless” on the pad of a writer who’d asked him to take notes for him, McCarthy had gone from a crowd of almost 50 media members to seven.
“Good timing,” McCarthy joked.
What McCarthy wasn’t kidding about, however, was his affinity for Tebow – a high opinion that Packers general manager Ted Thompson also shares.
“I don’t know how you can not be positive about Tim Tebow,” McCarthy said later as he stood in a hallway, away from Tebow-palooza. “The young man’s a winner. I’ve never met him; I’ve seen him play on TV like most people. I have not broken down his film yet. I was in the pre-combine draft meetings for the quarterbacks and heard what the scouts said about him, watched a little bit of tape on him.
“I’m looking forward to breaking him down (on film). I’m going to find something wrong with everybody’s mechanics, but I don’t think you just throw him away and say, ‘He can’t play in this league.’ The guy has a tremendous will to win. I think that’s something you can’t overlook. That’s just my opinion. I have not put a grade on him, so I don’t know how that will come out. But I know one thing: The guy wins football games. I think you need to be excited about that.”
Said Thompson earlier in the day: “I'm no quarterback expert, (but) I will say this about young Tebow: There's been a lot of discussion and commenting about him and his release or his ability to play in the National Football League. Based on his history, I think that would be a little bit premature to start criticizing him and doubting his ability to play. He's been playing at a pretty high level for quite some time, has to go down as one of the great college football players of all-time. So let's don't sell him short just yet.”
And while saying nice things about a guy does nothing to guarantee that a team is in fact interested in him, the Packers’ public gushing about Tebow at the very least struck a different chord than most of the running commentary about Tebow, who has been dismissed by critics as not being good enough to play at the NFL level, despite his unprecedented college success.
The most-heard knock on Tebow is, as McCarthy and Thompson alluded to, his mechanics. According to his critics, there is a “loop” in his throwing motion that they say cannot be fixed. McCarthy acknowledged there’d be work to do – “The way we do it in our quarterback school, we address areas of fundamentals that we feel are a must, that we feel we need to address and try to fix immediately,” McCarthy explained – but he wasn’t doom-and-gloom about Tebow’s prospects the way others were.
“History shows you can tweak a release. You can't change a release," said Charlie Casserly, the former NFL general manager who now works as a studio analyst for the NFL Network and CBS. "I don't think you radically change anything that somebody has a habit that's been drilled and you're doing under pressure."
The left-handed Tebow won't throw at the Combine – he’s chosen to wait until his March 17 on-campus Pro Day in Gainesville – but he disputed the suggestion that his throwing motion needs to be completely overhaulred.
"It's more like a tweak," Tebow said. "It’s not necessarily changing my whole motion, just the way I’m holding the ball and kind of how I’m getting to where I’m throwing it. That’s kind of the biggest problem we’ve seen,
so that’s what we’re working on the most.
“It’s not necessarily that I’m throwing the ball higher, but I am holding the ball higher, not dropping it, not getting that loop in my release. (That) is what I’m working on."
Tebow worked extensively at last month’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., with the Miami Dolphins coaching staff, which coached the South team. He stayed after practice every day to work with Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee, and veteran offensive coordinator Dan Henning also examined his mechanics and gave him pointers.
"I'm rarin' to go, so I'm going to work on what I need to work on now," said Tebow, who will do all the other on-field physical activities – the 40-yard dash, bench press, etc. – while most of the other high-profile quarterbacks at the Combine will not. "I'm not scared of what people are going to say. I'm not scared of anything else. That's just my mentality. If I need to work on something and change it, I'm going to work on it to the best of my ability and do it now."
And, for his part, Tebow sounded like he’d be fine with sitting and learning before playing.
“I don’t know what the team that drafts me wants to do with me. I don’t really know what their plan would be for me,” Tebow said. “I’ll do whatever it takes. Yeah, probably patience will be part of it. That’s part of everything in life.”
The Packers could afford him that opportunity. Aaron Rodgers is the unquestioned starter, and the team was thrilled with the improvement it saw from second-year backup Matt Flynn, a 2008 seventh-round pick who looked like a vastly different player from the rookie version. They didn’t carry a third quarterback on their 53-man roster, and they lost disappointing 2008 second-round pick Brian Brohm when the Buffalo Bills signed him off their practice squad late in the season. When McCarthy’s annual offseason quarterback school opens next month, it’ll be Rodgers, Flynn and practice-squadder Chris Pizzotti attending.
“We're fortunate, we really like our two guys,” McCarthy said of Rodgers and Flynn. “(But) I'd have five if I could. I just think the quarterback position is so important and you cannot ever have enough of those guys. We're just getting started with Pizzotti, and we'll definitely look at all these guys here.”
And you can bet Tebow will get a very close look. With McCarthy’s background as a quarterbacks guru and Tom Clements being one of the most well-respected quarterbacks coaches in the league, McCarthy believes the Packers’ environment would be perfect for Tebow’s development.
“I would definitely love to coach him,” was what McCarthy was saying when the mass exodus occurred. “I know a lot's being said about his mechanics. Just the way he approaches the game of football, I think he'll do everything he needs to do to improve. You look for football players, and his record in college I think speaks for itself. I'd love the opportunity to work with a Tim Tebow.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.