Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. The topics of this edition include:
-- Teddy Bridgewater's practice gripe: constructive criticism or sour grapes?
-- A terrifying development for defensive coordinators across the league.
But first, a look at the potential return of an NFL lightning rod ...
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column was published before Jacksonville officially signed Tim Tebow. The quarterback-turned-tight end put pen to paper on Thursday morning.
Nothing sets off the Twitterverse like Tim Tebow, but I do not understand the outrage spawning from the Jacksonville Jaguars' interest in the former Heisman Trophy winner. While this situation is undeniably unique -- with a 33-year-old attempting to transition from quarterback to tight end after an extended football layoff -- I think the furor over Urban Meyer kicking the tires on one of his most decorated former players is over the top.
In the NFL, coaches are prone to have "pet cats" who accompany them whenever they change teams. For instance, this offseason, we've seen Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee follow Dan Quinn to Dallas. Casey Hayward recently joined Gus Bradley in Las Vegas, and Kyle Fuller reunited with Vic Fangio in Denver.
In addition, we've seen coaches add veterans with diminished games for reasons that go beyond the stat sheet, like Jon Gruden signing Jason Witten last year to serve as a mentor for a young Raiders roster, and Adam Gase adding Frank Gore to the Jets' lineup to provide more leadership in the locker room.
These reunions are driven by coach-player relationships built on trust, and Tebow's potential opportunity is another example. Meyer not only knows Tebow, but he trusts him implicitly due to their collective success at the University of Florida. The duo claimed a pair of national titles for the Gators, with the QB1 acting as an extension of the head coach as the team's undisputed leader. Most importantly, they built a bond based on mutual respect, admiration and maniacal competitiveness. Given all that, it's not that hard to understand why Meyer would consider bringing in his former star pupil after the latter expressed an interest in returning to the NFL at a different position.
"We have not signed Tim," Meyer clarified this week on Cris Collinsworth's Pro Football Focus podcast. "There's a thought going around. He was in the best shape of his life, asked to see if he could work out with a couple of our coaches. I wasn't even there. They came back to me and said, 'Wow, this guy's in incredible shape.' Then I went another time and watched them try him out. And they said, 'Go work on these things.' He comes back later, they try him out again -- I'm not there -- and they come in and they said, 'Wow, this guy's ball skills, he's a great athlete, he looks like he's 18 years old, not 20-whatever-he-is, 33.' I said, 'Guys you don't understand. Now this guy is, he's the most competitive maniac you're ever gonna talk to and let's give it a shot.' "
All that said, I'll admit that Tebow's sudden re-emergence in the NFL world initially raised my eyebrow. And I come at this as a former player/scout, current league-wide analyst and -- in the interest of full disclosure -- a Jaguars contributor and preseason color guy. Tebow hasn't played in an NFL regular-season game since December of 2012. Moreover, of his three NFL seasons, only one was spent primarily as a starter. The rest of the time, he was basically a gadget curiosity.
Considering it has been over a decade since Tebow posted solid athletic testing numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine -- SEE: 4.71 40-yard dash, 38.5-inch vertical leap, 4.17 20-yard shuttle, 6.66 three-cone drill -- the veteran faces long odds in shaking off the rust and transitioning to a brand new position. The former signal-caller must adjust to playing out of a three-point stance, while mastering the art of blocking and route-running. In addition, he must exhibit the toughness and physicality to be an extension of the offensive line in the trenches, and show enough competence as a pass catcher to be a credible threat in the aerial attack.
Still, while it's only natural to assume Tebow would struggle to make such a significant change at his advanced age, I was surprised by the optimism expressed to me by a former NFL tight ends coach.
"Tebow is the perfect piece of clay to mold," said the former coach, who has experience training former basketball players as tight ends. "He has toughness, intelligence, length, strength and physicality. Plus, quarterbacks normally have excellent ball skills."
What about making a position switch at age 33?
"By all accounts, he is in amazing shape and his competitive nature is off the charts. He has a chance to pull it off."
Sure, Tebow is unlikely to emerge as a Pro Bowl-caliber playmaker, but he has the potential to fill a role as a Blake Bell-like contributor. The former Oklahoma quarterback has carved out a nice NFL career as a TE2/TE3. Tebow could follow a similar path to emerge as a rotational player/special teams contributor if he flashes enough athleticism and skill to stay on the field as a tight end/H-back.
The potential signing of Tebow has drawn the ire of football fans far and wide, but such a move could be designed to bolster Jacksonville's new culture while adding depth at a position of need.
Long story short: It's understandable that this coach would kick these particular tires.
PANTHERS: Don't tune out Teddy's criticism!
Perhaps Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater's recent comments about the Panthers' preparation for key situations last season are indicative of a case of sour grapes. Or maybe the veteran signal-caller was offering legitimate advice to his former coaches. It might be a little bit of both.
"I'll just say this, for (offensive coordinator) Joe Brady's growth, that organization, they'll have to practice different things in different ways," Bridgewater told the All Things Covered podcast with Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden. "One thing we didn't do much of when I was there, we didn't practice two minutes, really. We didn't practice red zone. You walk through the red zone stuff, and then Saturday, you come out and practice red zone, but you'd only get like 15 live reps. Guys' reps would be limited."
For his part, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said he was disappointed in the remarks, but before you throw shade at Bridgewater for his performance as the Panthers' starting QB, it is important to note that he was pointing out a significant difference from the traditional schedule in the team's approach to the practice week. Most NFL teams utilize a schedule that features the following daily emphasis:
Monday: Film review/light workout
Tuesday: Recovery day
Wednesday: First and second down
Thursday: Third down/blitz
Friday: Red zone/two-minute drill
During his time as Eagles head coach (2013-15), Chip Kelly introduced the NFL to a new practice schedule based on his sports science research. The forward-thinking coach flipped the practice week to ensure his players were fresher on game days, putting together an agenda that looked more like this:
Monday: Recovery day
Tuesday: First and second down
Wednesday: First and second down
Thursday: Third down/blitz/red zone/two-minute drill
Saturday: Full-speed review practice
Rhule and the Panthers might subscribe to a similar practice schedule, with Fridays considered light days followed by a heavier practice on Saturday.
"I'm not going to delve into specifics about our process, some of that is specific to us," Rhule said on Wednesday night, per the Panthers’ official website. "But I feel really good about our preparation, and the amount of work our coaches put in and the amount of work our players put in. The amount of practice work, I think we push them in a really smart way.
"When you have 140 guys in a locker room, guys will disagree on some things sometimes. You can't ask everyone to agree with everything. But I feel really good about what we do, I want to make sure to say I feel really good about the way we practice and our process. I'm disappointed to hear he didn't feel the same way."
Rhule makes valid points regarding the challenge of appeasing a locker room full of players with different preparation preferences. Some guys prefer a heavy workload with a ton of repetitions, while others can get ready for game day with minimal on-field work.
That said, I could not help but notice that Rhule mentioned "140 guys" in the locker room. Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue to mention a number that is more synonymous with a college roster (most college rosters consist of 125-plus players) compared to the 90-man training camp rosters in the NFL. It made me wonder if Rhule is still adjusting to the pro game after spending several years as a college head coach at Temple and Baylor.
With that in mind, Bridgewater's comments regarding the Panthers' practice schedule and the alleged lack of emphasis on situational football could have merit, particularly with a young offensive coordinator still acclimating to a new role. Remember, 2020 was Brady's first year as a true offensive coordinator at any level. He had to handle more responsibilities while adjusting to a pro game that averages fewer total plays than the college game and places a greater emphasis on critical situations, particularly when it comes to red-zone, third-down and two-minute-drill prep.
Bridgewater's performance certainly played a role in the Panthers ranking 28th in red-zone efficiency and finishing 0-for-8 in late-game situations when they had a chance to take the lead or tie the game. However, the coaching staff should re-examine its methods to ensure his successor, Sam Darnold, has a better chance of success in critical moments.
If the coaching staff heeds the advice that seeps through Bridgewater's sour grapes, the Panthers' offense could produce fine wine in 2021.
DK METCALF: Fear this world-class deep threat!
DK Metcalf did not earn a spot on Team USA for the Tokyo Olympics, but his solid performance at last weekend's USA Track and Field Golden Games and Distance Open certainly didn't calm any nerves in defensive meeting rooms across the league. Although his 10.37-second time in the 100 meters ranked 15th out of 17 competitors in the event, Metcalf's showing as a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder undoubtedly made defensive coaches and defensive backs cringe.
To be honest, most of the defensive queasiness existed before Metcalf's run. But his exploits as a sprinter will further flummox opponents tasked with handling the big-bodied pass catcher on the perimeter. With a time that places him in the vicinity of the country's best sprinters -- elite athletes who looked miniature by comparison -- Metcalf will force cornerbacks to deeply ponder their techniques and tactics when facing him on the island.
Metcalf's speed as a supersized pass catcher will discourage some defenders from attempting to play bump-and-run at the line of scrimmage. He is too big for scrawny cornerbacks to slow down with one-hand jams and his explosive burst will make it hard for defenders to stay in his hip pocket in a 40-yard dash along the boundary on go-routes. But if a cornerback elects to play from distance, the free release will enable Metcalf to get into his route at maximum speed without resistance. This will put immediate pressure on the cover man to maintain his cushion as he backpedals or turns and runs early when he senses a vertical route coming from No. 14. The fear factor will only increase with a verified 100-meter time and viral video of the chiseled freak storming down the track.
The dilemma Metcalf presents will continue to force defensive play-callers to consider "cloud" coverage (corner presses the receiver at the line and then stays in the flat while the safety provides coverage over the top) or other double-team/bracket tactics to neutralize the 23-year-old's big-play potential. Two years into his NFL career, Metcalf's averaging 15.6 yards per catch, with 30 grabs of 20-plus yards and nine of 40-plus. Opponents were already aware of his explosiveness, but this track showcase will only further spook opponents lining up across from Metcalf.
Heading into the 2021 campaign, the Seahawks' designated big-play specialist is poised to cement his status as a world-class playmaker.