FAIRHOPE, Ala. — The scene was surreal, with SEC fans of varied persuasions — Alabama fans, Georgia fans, Tennessee fans — screaming wildly in adoration of Tim Tebow, while a security detail shadowed him to keep the potentially overambitious at bay.
Senior Bowl practices have long been open to the public, but never has the public been this interested in attending them.
Then again, Tebow has never played in the Senior Bowl until now. Love him or loathe him, the outgoing Florida quarterback is a hit wherever he goes.
But whether the throngs of NFL personnel gathered in Mobile, Ala., this week to dissect prospects give Tebow a similar reception remains to be seen.
In his first practice before Saturday's predraft showcase, it was hard to argue that Tebow helped his cause. His mechanical flaws — primarily his slow, shot put-like delivery — were on display for all to see, with observers standing barely 50 feet away. His footwork and lack of experience working from underneath the center was an issue, too. UF's spread offense employs mostly a shotgun attack. And Tebow wasn't accurate or fluid.
But no one was willing to publicly shortchange him as a football player. He has accomplished too much, played in too many big games and proved himself a flat-out winner. Those things did not go unnoticed.
"One of the things that a club always looks for is being able to hit on the things you can't tell. What are those intangibles?" said Jim Zorn, the former Redskins coach and former NFL quarterback. "Some guys wear those intangibles right out in front. You can easily tell. It's a less risky move. There's risks involved with some players because they don't show it. Then, when you get them, you're either really disappointed or you're really fired up because you can't believe what you just got."
But when it comes to hard-core details on Tebow, most scouts watching Monday's practice at Fairhope Stadium seemed unimpressed, even if they were reluctant to say so on the record. He clearly was uncomfortable working under center, at times having problems handling the snap. And his throws were sometimes erratic, though he attributed some of that to getting used to new techniques, receivers and centers.
When the draft arrives in April, teams must ask themselves whether the former Heisman Trophy winner can be molded from a project into a legitimate franchise quarterback. For now, no one is betting their careers on it.
"If you draft him thinking you're going to correct (the flaws), then you're wrong," said Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, a former Bucs assistant. "I think it's going to be just as much up to him as the team that takes him. … If he's better at one thing than another, then you better figure out how to work that into your offense.
"If you draft him and think you're going to do what you've been doing all along, you're probably going to be getting him ready for the next coach who's going to replace you."
For his part, Tebow, 22, isn't letting the scrutiny ruin his experience. He came to Mobile to prove he belongs in the NFL. Besides, criticism is old hat for a player who has been coping with tremendous expectations since before he walked onto campus.
"I've been pretty used to dealing with a lot of criticism since I was in eighth or ninth grade. So, I can handle it," he said. "I'm a pretty self-motivated person. If anything, it just adds a little motivation."
He added, "I'm not worried about coming out here and failing in any way."
That's the confidence Tebow is renowned for. He never seems daunted or diminished. It's the other stuff — the wobbly throws, the windmill-like release and unfamiliarity with pro-style offenses — that have to be addressed.
"You have to make sure you know they can physically do it, but also how quickly can they do it at a level where they can help," Shanahan said of prospects with technical flaws. "Some of the guys who haven't done it in college for four years, it takes them a year or two years, and in the NFL, you don't have that time."
Those were sentiments echoed by Ravens general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome.
"Every player that comes into the National Football League has to learn something about technique regardless of the position they play," he said. "Every one. It's just a matter of how quick they can adapt."
For Tebow, the clock is already ticking.