PHILADELPHIA | When Tim Tebow completes a pass or takes off running with the football, fans watching the Philadelphia Eagles practice cheer loudly and reporters quickly post about it on social media.
Few, if any, players fighting for a roster spot ever drew more attention.
Tebow is back after sitting out two seasons and competing for a job as the No. 3 quarterback. His passing skills have improved and everyone is eager to see how innovative coach Chip Kelly plans to use him.
“Tim obviously has a lot of skills that other quarterbacks don’t have because of his ability to run the football,” Kelly said. “But we haven’t delved into any of that.”
Tebow will get a chance to show his skills Sunday when the Eagles host the Indianapolis Colts. He’s been impressive and sometimes erratic during training camp.
With Tebow, it’s not always pretty. But he often finds a way to win.
“Tim is a little bit of a gamer,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “These team settings which are a little bit uncontrolled, he gets out there and makes plays. And we’ve seen great improvements in him from his ability to execute our offense. Then he’s got that skill set where if it’s not right, he’s willing to take off and run, and when he’s running with it, he’s like a running back.”
Sam Bradford is Philadelphia’s starting QB. Mark Sanchez is the backup. Tebow and Matt Barkley are battling for the third spot. Tebow may have an advantage because of the intangibles. His athleticism fits Kelly’s up-tempo offense. Perhaps Kelly will use him to run a few zone-read plays. Maybe he’ll be a 2-point conversion specialist.
“My focus is whatever coach out here is trying to implement, do it as well as possible,” Tebow said. “Then, when the game comes, sometimes it’s a little bit different, getting tackled and getting hit.”
A first-round pick by Denver in 2010, Tebow was 9-7 as a starter with the Broncos in 2010-11. He had 316 yards passing in an overtime playoff win over Pittsburgh in January 2012, but was traded to the New York Jets after Denver signed Peyton Manning. Tebow played mostly special teams for the Jets and threw just eight passes. He spent training camp with the New England Patriots in 2013 and didn’t get another chance in the NFL until the Eagles signed him in April.
The knock against Tebow has been his accuracy. His career completion percentage is 47.9. Tebow worked with former major league pitcher Tom House on his mechanics during the past two years. And, it shows.
“I think I’ve improved,” he said. “I’m continuing to try to improve every day. It takes time, but it’s been happening, and I just want to continue that process.”
Teammate Brandon Graham already predicted Tebow not only will make the team, but make an impact. Riley Cooper, Tebow’s former roommate at Florida, expects him to succeed.
“He’s one of the toughest players I’ve ever played with, and that rubs off on everyone else,” Cooper said. “I’m sure he’s going to do well.”
Tebow ran for 2,947 yards and 57 touchdowns at Florida where he led the Gators to two national championships. He has 989 yards rushing and 12 TDs in the NFL.
Tebow is wildly popular, even in feisty Philadelphia. A legion of fans follow him because of his strong Christian faith. Fans flocked to see him during two open practices at Philadelphia’s home stadium, including a group of friends who drove 14 hours from Kentucky. About 43,000 fans attended practiced last Sunday and many cheered Tebow’s every move.
Tebow signed his autograph on several Gators jerseys and even a Bible. He’s often the last player off the field and does his best to accommodate every fan’s request.
“It’s something you always have to think about when you come out here because you can take it for granted,” Tebow said. “And there’s probably been a lot of times in my life when I’ve taken it for granted. But you just realize how blessed you are when you come out here. You’re able to play a game that you love. That’s pretty special.”
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