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September 26, 2006

Tebow talk comes at perfect time for Shula

If Mike Shula is concerned about lingering questions related to the Arkansas loss having a negative impact on his team this week, he shouldn't be.

In trying to move past one of the more disheartening losses in recent memory (and that's saying something around here), Shula will be able to count on the backup quarterback of the Crimson Tide's upcoming opponent to help him shift the focus from Arkansas to Florida.

That's right, it's Tim Tebow week.

Prepare yourself for a weeklong rerun of Tebow's recruitment, which, according to the hokey ESPN docudrama that followed it, came down to the Gators and Tide. We'll hear from Tebow how it was neck-and-neck until he and his dog made that fateful, decision-making trip to the pond behind his parent's home on the Westside (which is the bestside, by the way) of Jacksonville.

Who knows? Maybe it was closer than my cynical self will ever choose to believe. Judging by the house cleaning Urban Meyer conducted at the quarterback position in the weeks leading up to Tebow's December commitment, there was at least a tinge of doubt in the mind of Florida's head man.

There shouldn't have been.

As if an appearance by the Gator-d up Tebow clan in Hoover a few months earlier wasn't enough to convince Tide fans that the fix was in, Shula and UA assistant Buddy Wyatt were subjected to a Holly Jolly Gator Christmas when they paid an in-home visit to Tebow on the eve of his announcement.

Rumor has it that the nativity scene on the front lawn featured likenesses of Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Jack Youngblood as The Three Wisemen. Former UF coach Ron Zook was also honored, standing in as the mule.

There were unconfirmed reports of the eggnog being spiked with Gatorade.

But what if Tebow had broken the hearts of those close to him and ventured out on his own?

What if he had decided to become a part of a program where parents aren't allowed to chat up the head coach during practice?

At Alabama, Tebow would be doing what he's presently doing at Florida. Instead of the Jimmy Johns-at-quarterback package, we'd be talking about Tebow's three plays (quarterback runs left, center and right). To great fanfare, Tebow would be running over corners in the second half of Alabama games. Maybe not to the ticker-tape parade kind of response he's received in his home state, but to a very strong reception nonetheless.

The biggest difference? Instead of waiting for Chris Leak to finish up his senior season, Tebow would be doing his thing behind a sophomore who shows no signs of surrendering his job.

Instead of subbing for a quarterback who makes Tebow's presence on third- and fourth-and-short necessary, he would be behind a guy a who won't slide a half-yard short of a first down on third-and-four. Tebow would be behind a guy whose ability to read coverages is light years ahead of his own. He would be behind a guy whose numbers (63-of-99, 913 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception) through four games are superior to those of Brodie Croyle, who completed 62-of-109 passes, for 828 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions over the same stretch in 2005. (And Croyle had a healthy Tyrone Prothro to work with.)

This isn't to say that the future isn't bright for the Gator offense with Tebow at the controls. It's obvious to everyone around the UF program that Meyer can't wait to commit fully to the wonderfully talented athlete. Whereas there were questions about Tebow's ability to succeed in Shula's drop back passing game, Tebow is a much better fit in Meyer's offense.

The transition from Leak to Tebow might have picked up steam two Saturdays ago had a Tennessee interception return of a Leak pass for a touchdown not been wiped away by J.T. Mapu's blow to Leak's cranium. Gator fans welcomed Leak home from the Smokies by booing him after an interception in UF's win over Kentucky on Saturday.

It wasn't the pick the home crowd was upset about as much as it was Leak having the audacity to replace Tebow, who ripped off three runs for 62 yards earlier in the same drive. At some schools, the backup quarterback is the most popular man on campus. At Florida, he's the football version of Bono.

Still, Meyer knows that the kid has a ton of ground to cover before he can progress through reads with the speed and accuracy that SEC defenses demand. Until he reaches that point in his development, Tebow will be more Dan Kendra than Steve Young.

While it's a given that Tebow will see time against Alabama, the focus of the Tide defense needs to be on pressuring Leak and wrapping up UF receivers after the catch -- things it did well in a 31-3 pasting of the Gators a season ago. Taking care of those responsibilities will carry greater weight than anything Tebow does in limited action.

None of that matters, though. Regardless of the phony nature of Tebow's recruitment or John Parker Wilson's outstanding play, a backup quarterback will serve as one of the top storylines this week. And for Shula, it couldn't come at a better time.


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