Tim Tebow, reinvented

 

by Josh Peter, USA TODAY Sports
 
He's back. After working as a college football analyst for ESPN, Tim Tebow will make his long-awaited NFL return with the Philadelphia Eagles. Here's a look back at some of the signature moments of his career.
  • Tim Tebow is once again looking for work in the NFL. After the New England Patriots signed the quarterback for the preseason, Tebow was released in the final round of roster cuts. Here's a look back at some of the signature moments of his career.
  • Tebow carries during a preseason game against the Buccaneers.
  • Tebow with Tom Brady at Patriots minicamp in June 2013.
  • Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow poses with the Heisman Trophy as he addresses the media on Dec 8, 2007 after winning the award as a sophomore.
  • At the University of Florida, Tim Tebow wore eye black without Bible verses on them.
 
 
1/31 SLIDES© Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports
He’s back. After working as a college football analyst for ESPN, Tim Tebow will make his long-awaited NFL return with the Philadelphia Eagles. Here’s a look back at some of the signature moments of his career.
 

LOS ANGELES — On an overcast morning this week, with close-cropped hair and week-old stubble framing his face, Tim Tebow arrived at the University of Southern California’s baseball stadium. No one looked surprised to see the one-time football star standing next to a baseball field more than 2,000 miles from his home in Jacksonville, Fla. Tebow is a regular here.

He has been visiting off and on for almost two years in hopes of reviving his NFL career, which he essentially put in the hands of two retired baseball pitchers steeped in science and novel training techniques: Pitchers throw footballs, quarterbacks throw baseballs and, during morning lectures that can feel like physics lessons, athletes are quizzed on subjects like “kinetic awareness,” “biomechanical variables” and “proprioception.”

The science involves leaps of faith, too. Athletes, for example, are encouraged to run backward downhill, fast and on a six-degree grade. That, along with 270-plus exercises, high-tech motion analysis and more are used to establish proper throwing mechanics — something that long eluded Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner who is making another try at the NFL, this time with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“You just try to come in here and have an open mind and learn and get better,” Tebow told USA TODAY Sports. “That was my approach, and they really know what they’re talking about.”

They are a biomechanics tag-team, and the pioneer is Tom House.

House, 68, pitched in the big leagues from 1971 to 1978 and might be best remembered for catching Hank Aaron’s 715th home run — which broke Babe Ruth’s career record — in the Atlanta Braves’ bullpen. After finishing his major league career with a 29-23 record and 3.79 ERA career, he became a noted pitching coach in the major leagues, Japan and elsewhere. Along the way, started working with NFL quarterbacks such as Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs.

By his own admission, House once was dismissed as snake oil salesman interested only in selling his instructional books (he has written more than 20) and his videos and apps (he has produced hundreds.)

His partner is Adam Dedeaux, 29, the grandson of legendary USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux and a former pupil of House’s. Dedeaux pitched for Trojans and reached the Class-AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011 before giving up on his baseball career. He joined House’s instructional academy, where one might see Little Leaguers working alongside major leaguers, working nearby golfers, working within earshot of quarterbacks — a growing clientele that intrigued Dedeaux.

He urged House to expand the quarterback instruction operation, took over day-to-day duties of the business — 3DQB — and for the past two years has monitored virtually every mechanical throwing move made by Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner who led the University of Florida to national titles in 2007 and 2009 but has struggled to establish himself in the NFL.

Expectations may be rising again after his work here.

“I don’t feel like I’m the same player from a passing standpoint and a mechanics standpoint,” Tebow said.

The public will be able to see for itself soon enough. Tebow is set to report on Aug. 1 for training camp with the Eagles. House said the Eagles are getting a different quarterback than the one who completed only 47.9% of his passes during two seasons with the Denver Broncos and one season with the New York Jets.

“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 Sports. “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.”

But House makes no predictions about Tebow’s future in the NFL.

“He’s made a lot of progress,” he said. “He’s probably right in the middle of the pack as far as NFL quarterback mechanical efficiency. He’s in the top 60.

“But can he take that in an NFL game and make it work? We know he can run in an NFL game. Can he show people that he’s a proficient enough passer in an NFL game? And he’s got to get the reps to prove that.”

Dedeaux sounds more optimistic, saying Tebow’s delivery is faster and more compact, allowing Tebow to throw with more velocity and accuracy.

“As long as he trusts everything that we’ve done and has confidence in the work he’s put in, then I expect him to go out and play well,” Dedeaux said.

But not even the hundreds of exercises House and Dedeaux can draw on to reinforce proper mechanics can fix this: Tebow has not played meaningful time at quarterback in the NFL since the 2011 season.

He went 7-4 as a starter and led Denver to a victory in the first round of the playoffs. The Broncos signed Peyton Manning in the offseason and traded Tebow to the Jets, where he attempted only eight passes and was used primarily as a situational fullback and tight end throughout the 2012 season. The Jets dumped him in the offseason and Tebow signed with the Patriots in June.

He appeared in three preseason games but did not survive the final roster cut. Before Tebow left, Brady urged him to work with House and Dedeaux.

Tebow was in Los Angeles within 72 hours.

In 2012, he had spent a week with House and Dedeaux, but they said it was insufficient time to make significant changes. After listening to Brady, Tebow and his agent flew to Los Angeles and met with House and Dedeaux.

“We asked Tim to be patient, that he needed to be patient with the process, because it wasn’t going to be like anything he had done before,” Dedeaux said. “We were going to do it right, we were going to do it our way. And that was going to be a slow process to make sure we were getting enough reps so that the things we’re working, that they stick, that he’s going to get better.

“He expressed the fact that he was going to do whatever it took to get better and to get himself another opportunity to play in the NFL.”

Soon came the motion analysis, which showed Tebow’s balance was off, his posture was off and he was throwing with this arm, not his body. Then it was time to begin fixing the mechanical problems — a process that began 45 years ago.

House has a bachelor of science in marketing and a master of business administration degree from USC, and a Ph.D. in sports psychology from U.S. International University (now Alliant International University). But his education with sports biomechanics came outside of a classroom.

He started learning in 1969, when he was an instructor at he San Diego School of Baseball, run in part by Roger Craig, the former major league pitcher and renowned pitching coach. House, Craig and a few others started watching film of pitchers and analyzing what was happening during pitch delivery.

Later came radar guns, faster-speed video capture and, in the mid-80s, three-dimensional motion analysis.

By then, he was done playing and immersed in his pursuit to crack the biomechanical code for pitchers. But he was studying more than pitchers.

Mostly without their knowledge, House and his team filmed quarterbacks such as Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Steve Beuerlein, not to mention fly fishermen and horses. Whatever House and his team thought might offer insight.

It turned out pitchers and quarterbacks had a lot in common.

“As we got further and further into the actual motion of throwing, whether it’s a football, a baseball, a softball, whatever it might be, the more we saw that it’s the same,” House said. “The only thing different between throwing a football and throwing a baseball is timing.

“A quarterback has to get into foot strike and release the ball in about 0.4, 0.5 seconds. A pitcher can go three times as long. Other than that, it’s all the same. Once the front foot hits, it’s virtually the same delivery across the go board.”

Soon House was reevaluating everything he’d been teaching before motion analysis.

“Most of our coaching came from what we thought we were seeing,” he said. “Well when we got into three-dimension motion analysis at 750 to 1,000 frames a second, we saw that most of what we were teaching wasn’t quite right. Because our eyes were lying.

“All the important movements in a throw, a swing or a strike take places in 1/250th to 1/600 of a second, so now we started seeing that and measuring that and that’s kind of where sport is right now. We can measure it, but how can you teach from it?”

He began developing exercises and drills to put the data to work. The first quarterback he worked with was Todd Marinovich, who in 1991 sought House’s counsel when he left USC and headed for the NFL as a first-round draft pick.

Marinovich flopped, lasting only two seasons in the NFL. But House had more success with his next client — Brees. They’d started working before the 2005 season, when Brees suffered a career-threatening shoulder injured. James Andrews, the celebrated orthopedic surgeon who operated on Brees’ the torn labrum, said the quarterback might never play again.

When Brees completed physical therapy with Andrews’ staff, he reconnected with House and began daily sessions before Brees signed with the New Orleans Saints. Brees made the Pro Bowl that season and, while continuing to work with House, he helped lead the Saints to their first Super Bowl in 2010 and emerged as one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

Word spread.

In time, other prominanet NFL quarterbacks were on their way. In came Carson Palmer, then with the Cincinnati Bengals. In came Matt Cassel, then with the Kansas City Chiefs. In came Alex Smith, then with the San Francisco 49ers.

And in came Brady, who at that point had won three Super Bowl championships and two Super Bowl MVP awards. Not long after arriving, he brought in his own receivers while working with House to refine his mechanics.

Since then, House said virtually every team has sent at least one quarterback to work with him, and that as instructors, he and Dedeaux had “touched every cool quarterback” except Aaron Rogers of the Green Bay Packers.

The quarterbacks parading onto USC’s campus in 2008, not long after House took over as the baseball team’s pitching coach. He retired in 2011 but from the stadium continues to operate his instructional academy, and inside his office are life-size posters of two Hall of Fame pitchers — Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, among the celebrated players who speak reverently about House and what he teaches.

Yet House sounds even more proud that his program — the National Pitching Association, which includes 3DQB — is certified by the Institutional Review Boards (IRB), the gold-standard for academic research.

“We’re pretty happy with what we’re doing right now, but it’s ongoing,” he said. “The better the technology, the more people are capturing data, the smarter we’re getting.”

Skeptics, of House and Tebow, might reserve judgment until Tebow gets on the field again. Mechanics aside, House suggests one thing about Tebow should be unquestioned.

“His motivation muscle is just like it was a starting quarterback in the NFL,” House said. “He never, ever backed off on his motivation.”

After meeting with House and Dedeaux, Tebow made Los Angeles his primary residence and reported to USC up to five days a week for six months. Periodic visits have followed.

“I don’t necessarily know there was an exact plan coming in,” Tebow said. “I think it was coming here to work on my weaknesses and through my strengths become better as a player, as a person. Go into this thing knowing I’m going to give whatever I have to be the best.’’

He was often instructed to pick up a baseball rather than a football as part of House’s drills and exercises.

“You kind of just try to go back to the beginning and understand that we tried to really go back to the basics of mechanics,” Tebow said. “And I think work from the ground up and understand everything and kind of go into it with a lot of humility and determination and work ethic to try to get better.”

Research shows that quarterbacks can begin changing a bad habit with about 1,000 perfect repetitions and gain mastery over that skill with about 10,000, according to House.

“He’s got his 10,000 reps,” House said of Tebow. “When someone asks, ‘Can this guy be an NFL quarterback?’ Well, our data says yes.

“But only experience and the kid himself can dictate whether he can or can’t. There are so many variables that are out of our control.”

One variable is opportunity.

For months after Tebow’s initial arrival, teams periodically expressed interest in Tebow but workouts never materialized. It gave House and Dedeaux more time to fix and strengthen Tebow’s mechanics, but it also prolonged the agony that ended in April when the Eagles signed Tebow to a one-year deal.

“That was the ultimate high,” Dedeaux said.

Declining to discuss his work with House and Dedeaux in detail, Tebow said he’s trying to stay “low key” as he prepares for training camp. But he smiled when asked why he was back in Los Angeles even though by House’s count he’s already put in his 10,000 reps.

“I love the process and I love that I have a chance to get better,” he said. “That’s an important mindset not just for football, just in life.

“When you have that mindset, then you won’t look back and you won’t regret anything. No matter how much you succeeded, no matter how good you were at something, you can never look back and say, ‘I regret I didn’t go all the way.’

He beamed when asked about the upcoming training camp.

“I just go and approach every single day with excitement, passion and enthusiasm and I’m not going to worry about tomorrow,” he said.

“Today we were able to put in some work and try to continue to get ready the rest of the day. That’s always been my mindset.”

During their time together, Dedeaux has waved his hand in Tebow’s face to simulate pass rushers. Soon Tebow will face the real thing — along with elite linebackers and cornerbacks that narrow a quarterback’s passing lanes — and get a chance to show what his work here here amounts to when he’s back on an NFL field.

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2 Responses to “Tim Tebow, reinvented”

  1. brandi says:

    If all things were equal, I’d say Tim Tebow has been the victim of being at the lead edge of a new era of Offenses in the NFL. The restoration of a balanced attack and the renewed appreciation of the mobile Quarterback armed with an entirely new generation of sophisticated Spread Option Offenses which will eventually bring excitement back to what has been an increasingly boring and uninspired NFL Game.

    A new generation will follow in his footsteps.

    But all things aren’t equal. Tim’s unprecedented popularity cracks the bones of the egocentric NFL which has become convinced it needs nothing to increase popularity. Least of all a Popular Player at a time when the Owners are trying to put Players and the Players Association “in their place”.

    The Eagles Coaching Staff and even a few Eagles BeatWriters have recognized that when you get him out of the box of step back throw from pocket and just let Tim be Tim he’s very much the Quarterback who set Passing Accuracy Records in College.

    It’s disheartening that a Sports Media incapable of admitting it’s been wrong about so many things feels the need to now justify itself by hyping up the freshly humbled Tim Tebow who finally started trying to get with the program.

  2. ck says:

    Competition will have to step aside b/c TEBOW IS BRINGING HIS A GAME!:D
    COUNT ON IT!!! GO TEBOW!

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