Meme and Fact
Some thoughts about the meme that is running around the internet that Tebow is a bad practice player. You find people saying things like "a notoriously bad practice player" or "a bad practice player throughout his career" as if this is some sort of very well established and multiple sourced fact. And with Tebow being used in such a strangely limited way after the Jets made such a big preseason deal about him, as now Sanchez plummets into an embarrassment of QB impotence. grasping at this obvious history to explain his non-play seems about as rational an explanation as any. The problem is that something about this doesn't seem right. It sounds a little like something that came out of one or two events or statements that got blown into a ready-made Internet fact.
But what even does this mean, a "poor practice player"? Does it mean that he doesn't practice hard? That seems highly unlikely given his otherwise All-American rep, while that is the usual meaning of the phrase: someone who only turns it on during games but loafs. Or, does it mean that he doesn't perform particular plays well in practice? Which plays though? All plays?
Orton and the Senior Bowl
Googling around (setting date parameters) the rumor/meme seems to have come from a few discrete places.
1. When competing with Orton in preseason he was soundly out performed by Orton in practice. I'm not sure that this makes you a bad practice player. in fact one would expect Orton to regularly outperform a raw QB in practice. Orton was a nice tight QB. I found a note after one week where Tebow was relegated to 3rd QB (behind Quinn) due to performance in that week's practice, but again I'm not sure one week of practice is player defining. Basically the story was that Tebow was not winning the job against a very experienced QB in practice.
And then we have Josh McDaniels talking about how Tebow does things in games you can't script in practice:
This doesn't so much say that Tebow is a poor practice player as say that in game he can do thinks you can't coach or script.
2. Tebow had a very bad first day of practice at the senior bowl, fumbling snaps, wobbling passes. Hmmm. But here the big issue was that Tebow was very unused to being under center. It is interesting to note that his OC now was his coach then, Sparano.
It would be pretty odd if the Jets traded for Tebow without strong consultation with Sparano 3 months after hiring him as their OC. It's a pretty safe bet that Sparano liked what he saw in Tebow rather than was put off by it.
What are we to make of this Poor Practice Player reputation? It seems to have really only come out of two events or circumstances: 1) Tebow's failure to beat out Orton in preseason 2) struggling with under center sets in Senior Bowl practices, combined with a kind of reputation for in-game improvisation. I'm not really sure that this makes him a bad practice player though. We can I think safely assume that he practices hard, though it is perfectly reasonable to guess that being behind Sanchez in practice might be a little like being behind Orton. If Rex Ryan is to be believed (a serious "if") Sanchez practices at a praise-worthy level.
There is one more interesting possible factor in the Tebow practice player story. Tebow is left-handed. The Wall Street Journal had a pretty good article about the difficulties left-handed QBs face in the league, and if indeed Tebow is getting a non-optimum amount of snaps it could be contributing to poor practice showings, along with whatever QB skill maturation one might hope from him.
There are five left-handed quarterbacks on NFL rosters at the moment. None is a starter. John Maxymuk, a librarian and football author from Rutgers University-Camden, says he can find only 12 lefty quarterbacks who've played in at least 50 pro games. Successful left-handed quarterbacks like Steve Young, Mark Brunell and Ken Stabler are the rare few who've had lasting success. "There's no simple explanation for it," says former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski.
Players and coaches say that when a southpaw is making passes, receivers have to adjust to how deep throws fade to the left instead of to the right, since lefties throw with a different spin. "When I was at Georgia, that was never a big deal because I was getting 90% of the snaps in practice," says former quarterback David Greene, who was a 2005 third-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks but retired without ever throwing a regular-season pass. "With Seattle it was different because I was getting limited reps."
Having a lefty behind center can upset the usual balance on an offensive line and affect the direction of plays. The most important lineman on any football team is the tackle who protects the quarterback's blind side-the side he'll have his back to when he's throwing a pass. Most times, that's the left tackle. But a southpaw requires a great right tackle. In addition, since it's harder for lefties to run and throw to the right, pass plays that involve the quarterback rolling out generally have to be reversed. "Offenses are built for righthanded quarterbacks," Mr. Jaworski says.
If Tebow isn't throwing all those short slants and timing routes like Sanchez is, or even more likely is spending so much time in his own special packages and not much in the regular offense (as David Greene talks about above), and if he is further hampered by being a Lefty when trying to impress his coaches in Sanchez's plays, one perhaps can see how it is very difficult for him to win the job in practice. But I also suspect that this "poor practice player" reputation is a little overblown, at least in all that it implies. I don't think Sparano would have signed onto the Tebow trade if he saw a poor practice player, and I also don't believe Westy would put his punter in the hands of a poor practice player.
I'm writing this in part because I'd love the background on this as well, other sources and events, perhaps a Gator fan can fill me in. I'm not sure though how a QB sets the career NCAA mark for QB completion % by being a poor practice player.
In related news, for those of you who have missed my own discussion of Sanchez's 4 years of bottom of the league play - derived from PFF - they were inspired to put up their own post outlining how bad he has been statistically since he came into the league.:
They just keep making apologies for Mark Sanchez.
He’s young and learning. His receivers aren’t good enough. His line is terrible.
All we ever hear are excuses for why Mark Sanchez plays poorly. How about this for a novel concept. Hold the man accountable and when he struggles punish him for it. Bench him. Make him feel threatened. Obviously the pampering he gets isn’t helping him and motivating him to be a better player. Let’s take a look at how he has played the past few years...