The Bengals aren’t in the market for an impact quarterback when the NFL scouting combine gets underway later this week. Or any kind of quarterback for that matter. And by the time Tim Tebow and the big guys are off the board, the Bengals figure to have helped themselves in the receiving end instead of the throwing end.
But they do have ties to Tebow, the most dramatic story of the April draft.
Among Tebow’s kitchen cabinet charged with overhauling his mechanics in time for his St. Patrick's Day NFL workout are former Bengals head coach Sam Wyche and former long-time NFL offensive coordinator Zeke Bratkowski, the father of current Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.
Wyche, recalling Boomer Esiason circa 1984, needed just two days with Tebow last month to pronounce him ready to make some franchise very happy. According to ESPN.com, CFL head coach Marc Trestman and Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone are also part of Team Tebow.
Zeke Bratkowski, 77, is on-site, but Wyche found himself in Franklin, Tenn., for two days of consult a week before last month’s Senior Bowl when Tony Dungy called. Dungy replaced Wyche as the Buccaneers head coach in 1996 but they first crossed paths long before that in Dungy’s final season as a player with the 49ers. It was 1979. Wyche’s first season as the Niners quarterbacks coach tutoring a rookie named Joe Montana.
Wyche says when Tebow’s father called Dungy looking for some NFL help, Dungy looked up Wyche to see if he’d be willing to take a look, offer some advice, and perhaps some coaching. But Wyche, frankly, didn’t want to alter that much despite the crush of doomsayers that say Tebow can’t make it because of his elongated throwing motion and choppy footwork after a horrific week at the Senior Bowl.
“If you don’t think he can line up at quarterback in the NFL,” Wyche said Monday from his South Carolina home, “then you don’t know about lining up in the NFL. The last thing I told him when I left was not to change how accurate he is and his touch. The two things you have to have in a quarterback are accuracy and intelligence. If you don’t, you’re going to be finding another one pretty quickly. And (Tebow) is as smart as a whip.”
A quarterbacks guru best known for creating the no-huddle offense and the Baby Boomer in Cincinnati, Wyche is still active in the game despite a venture into county politics and turning 65 last month. He was a head coach in the recent Under Armour High School All-American game, where he coached the son of his most famous pupil, Nick Montana, and he’s still interested in getting back into the pro game, be it the UFL or NFL.
Montana may be Wyche’s first and most accomplished student, but Wyche is probably most identified with Esiason’s first eight seasons in Cincinnati when they broke in together as head coach and franchise quarterback. It is Esiason that Wyche saw when he watched Tebow.
“Smart like Boomer and in terms of a strong arm that gets the ball there in a hurry,” Wyche said. “And he’s a guy with a lot of charisma. Boomer had a more consistent delivery. But you don’t have to be consistent if you’re accurate.”
The scouts won’t find out at the combine this weekend because Tebow isn’t going to throw. He’ll save that for March 17 and Wyche says he’s going to be fine. He says the flaws that Tebow showed at the Senior Bowl coming out of a non-NFL offense, such as trouble taking the snap from center and a slow release, can be fixed “in a week,” once he gets to an NFL team.
“Get him with the same receivers and the same center, the guys he’s going to have, and he’ll be fine,” Wyche said. “(At the Senior Bowl), they keep changing it up. Different centers, different receivers, and it’s hard to look good. The rumors have become so rampant about his throwing motion that he may slip to late in the first round, but I think some head coach is just going to fall into him and he’s going to have a long career of winning games.”
This isn’t to say Wyche didn’t give Tebow some tips. Like Bratkowski is doing, he worked on Tebow to take the ball back to throw with both hands instead of just his throwing hand.
“If you carry the ball up with two hands, the empty hand takes the ball to the same point every time,” Wyche said. “One-handed and it bounces around a little bit.”
Wyche also had Tebow visualize “subliminally in the back of my mind, releasing the ball way out in front of me.” The real release wouldn’t be that far, Wyche said, but the emphasis can help tighten spirals and might shorten and speed up the release.
But Wyche’s best advice for Tebow probably came as the coach tried to imitate the throwing motions of some of the most well-known passers and have the player try and guess: That’s Peyton Manning. That’s Tom Brady. That’s Joe Montana. That’s Boomer Esiason.
“Well, he wouldn’t have known those guys, but they were all different,” Wyche said. “Everybody has a different motion. Everybody isn’t the same. And I told him he’s in that everybody category.”
Wyche has spoken a few times with Bratkowski since he’s the guy on the ground in Franklin and he seems to be pleased with Tebow’s progress.
“At this point in his career, he couldn’t have a guy any better than Zeke working with him,” said Wyche of the 15-year NFL quarterback who coached nearly twice as long in the league.
Bob Bratkowski has been picking his father’s brain longer than anybody. Here is a guy, Zeke, that coached and played during five decades in the league before retiring in the late '90s. So Bob will no doubt get the full scoop on not only Tebow but also Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour, another quarterback working out with agent Jimmy Sexton’s clients. The Bengals won’t take a quarterback that high and probably not at all, but if they are interested in Miami of Florida tight end Jimmy Graham, he’s catching balls from these guys.
“He’ll keep his eye out on guys. Not just the quarterbacks. They’ve got all kinds of positions down there getting ready for the combine,” Bob Bratkowski said of his father. “The nice thing is he not only gets to work with them on the field, but he sees them interact with secretaries and food servers and he can see who’s respectful and who’s not.”
Wyche has only spent a couple of sessions with Tebow, but he’s confident he knows where that will come out, too.
“This guy will be an ambassador,” Wyche said. “Not just for football, but all sports.”