Opinion: Tim Tebow's true 'uphill battle' is under way at Jaguars' training camp

Jarrett Bell
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — You can’t help but notice Tim Tebow. He’s one of the few household names in the Jacksonville Jaguars camp, the familiar face and local legend who commands so much attention just by his mere presence.

Never mind what Jaguars coach Urban Meyer wants you to think. Meyer, reunited with the former quarterback who won a Heisman Trophy under his watch and helped the University of Florida win two national titles, tries to downplay the fuss.

“He’s one of 90,” Meyer told USA TODAY Sports. “There’s a bunch of guys vying for a job. But he’s doing great. He’s really working.”

As Meyer chatted with his visitor following a recent practice, Tebow and defensive end Josh Allen were the last two players off the field. Unable to engage up-close with fans by signing autographs or posing for selfies — typical training camp measures scrapped with COVID-19 guidelines — Tebow and Allen signed miniature footballs and tossed them to fans in the stands.

When the players finished, Meyer acknowledged Allen and mentioned pass-rush reps as the defensive end walked past.

When Tebow approached, there were no pleasantries. It’s obvious that Meyer has special sentiments for Tebow, but none of that was displayed after the practice.

Not that Tebow needed any extra love. As he walked off the field with his helmet and jersey off, fans screamed his name.

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Tim Tebow #85 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on during Training Camp at TIAA Bank Field on July 30, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Yes, Tebow, 33, might be the third-string tight end trying to stick to the squad as a free agent trying to make a comeback after a seven-year layoff from the NFL, he’s still Tim Tebow. In Florida. There’s nothing unconscious here. It seems that many are watching his every move.

The Jaguars have sent a message about such buzz by declaring that Tebow is off-limits to the media — at least during the early stages of camp — to reduce demands as he tries to navigate this new deal.

“It’s an uphill battle,” Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s learning a brand new position. But if you’ve ever been around that guy — I’ve only been around him for a few months — you won’t see a guy who prepares, trains and puts more into it than him. He’s put in hours upon hours. To be where he is right now, on the field in an NFL training camp, I think speaks a lot to his commitment.”

During training camp practices last week, Tebow (6-3, 255 pounds), wearing No. 85, took reps with the backup units and was, well, serviceable as he ran routes. There were no major gaffes as he generally ran short out-routes and intermediate seam routes. Yet the first few days of camp — when there was only limited blocking and defenses were prevented from contact, leaving the offenses to run plays “on air” — hardly provided an indication of the challenges ahead.

Tebow’s ability to catch passes in traffic will be a key barometer for his chances to succeed. And that might not be half the challenge of holding up in the trenches and proving to be an adequate blocker. If Tebow makes it, he might be best suited to play a role as a classic H-back, which would reduce some of the physical demands in the trenches while he aligns in space or across formations with movement.

More substantial clues are coming. The Jaguars begin full-contact practices this week.

“We’ll continue to see how much he can get better,” Bevell said. “Everything he’s doing out here, it’s like the first time. Now it’s the first time he’s blocking. Then we’re going to put the pads on, and it’ll be the first time he’s going to be actually blocking with helmets and shoulder pads on. So, every stage that we move along is something new. But he’s doing an outstanding job as far as knowing what he’s supposed to do in preparing. We’ll see how it shakes out.”

Beyond the notion on reuniting with Meyer, Tebow’s chances are bolstered because tight end happens to be a thin position for the Jaguars. 

Meyer said that Tebow came to camp in “incredible shape.” Like everyone else, he’s eager to see what that means in the final analysis.

“He’s a contact player,” Meyer said. “When I had him at Florida, that’s where he shined, when the shoulder pads come on. He’s a hard man to bring down. That’s what this game is all about. We’re about to find out.”

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