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Sprints Will Defend the NFL Guys Even Though They're Probably Wrong // 02.25.10

The Empire Strikes Back
Several Florida beat writers and bloggers blasted the idea that Urban Meyer didn't spend enough time trying to correct Tim Tebow's throwing motion -- or that Meyer should have even been concerned with Tim Tebow's throwing motion to begin with. Mike Bianchi:

Bottom line is this: The Gators do not pay Meyer $4 million a year to sacrifice wins in an attempt to turn players into great NFL prospects.

Is Tim Tebow's delivery ready for the NFL? ...

The only delivery Meyer should be concerned with is the delivery of national championships to the school that employs him.

Here's the problem with that, though: Tebow and other Florida football players are not going to Florida just to win national championships. (And, by Bianchi's definition, there are dozens of coaches who have now been labeled failures at their jobs whether they've enjoyed historic success at their schools or not. Sorry, Rich Brooks.) Five-star recruits go to college both to win national championships and, let's be honest, prepare for the NFL. If you can't get five-star recruits, it's hard to win national championships. So, unless Bianchi is actually putting forward the idea that Meyer and others shouldn't care at all what happens to the football players they coach as long as they win while at college, then his dramatic flourish at the end of his column isn't true.

But Bianchi wasn't the only member of the Florida media brigade taking aim at the argument, most notably put forward by (More on them in just a moment.) Robbie Andreu:

There was never any sense of urgency at UF to rebuild Tebow’s throwing motion because he was so effective passing the ball. The real crime would have been if Meyer had tried to remake Tebow and the project backfired and made Tebow a less effective passer than before. I’m mean, we’re talking about one of the all-time great players in the history of college football. You don’t mess with that. ...

It’s commendable that Tebow is putting in the work to give the NFL coaches and scouts what they want — a more prototypical throwing motion like all the other robot quarterbacks in the NFL.

But don’t bash Meyer for letting Tim Tebow be Tim Tebow while he was here. Tebow’s passing numbers say that was a great decision.

Yes and no. Andreu brings up the Heisman Trophy -- something Tebow wouldn't have won on his passing numbers alone in 2007 -- and uses the passing efficiency numbers. I've done the same thing, and I love passing efficiency. But it doesn't tell you everything about a quarterback. A college quarterback whose only pass attempt in a game is an eight-yard touchdown has a passer efficiency for the game of 497.20. That doesn't qualify him to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

Granted, Tebow isn't exactly the same, and his sample size is large enough to suggest that he was successful as a college quarterback. But the idea that efficiency ratings tell you that in isolation -- or that then suggests a quarterback will be successful in the NFL -- isn't true. And NFL guys might be right to ignore the number -- both JaMarcus Russell and Meyer-coached Alex Smith both had solid passer ratings in their final college season.

Alligator Army suggests the criticism of Tebow from NFL guys is of the same strain with MLB scouts who used to judge more on looks and less on stats.

However, [PFT's Mike] Florio's strafing ultimately reveals his real argument; Tim Tebow does not look, taste, smell or feel like an NFL quarterback. The NFL wants quarterbacks who look like Jimmy Clausen and [Jevan] Snead. According to NFL guys, Tebow is a failure because he not a pro-style quarterback.

There is something else at stake; if Tebow starts putting up numbers, Florio and the rest of them are failures.

Florio is lucky that the NFL has not had the revolution that Baseball has had with Moneyball and Sabermetrics finding ways to assess players outside of the blonde 6-foot-3 guy who, "just looks like a player." After the Oakland A's rebuilt their team and became successful, every MLB team copied it. ...

Rarely will I defend the NFL guys at anything, but however you want to evaluate a baseball player, good fundamentals will often help players do well by any statistical measure -- including sabermetrics -- and the same could be said of football players. Not all great players fit into a box -- which is my problem with the NFL guys -- but let's not pretend that fundamentals are usually irrelevant to success by sabermetric or other models. First, because sabermetrics usually dismisses outcome-based statistics like wins for a pitcher; those same kind of statistics are now being used to defend Tebow and Meyer. Second, because players who are good fundamentally are often good at even sabermetric statistics in baseball; the two are not mutually exclusive and are often mutually inclusive.

And football statistics are different than baseball in a way that makes things harder to fit into a sabermetric model; another player doesn't influence your OBP to the extent that yards after catch can influence passing numbers. Which isn't to say that there aren't sabermetric systems for football and some very good ones, but it isn't exactly the same.

In other words: Yeah, I think the way NFL scouts evaluate talent by essentially ignoring the college results is absurd. But it's got little to do with sabermetrics.

The biggest back and forth, though, came between the Palm Beach Post's Ben Volin and Florio. Volin on Florio's first post:

1) Meyer hired a pro-style quarterbacks coach last year, specifically to help Tebow with his mechanics.

2) NCAA rules prohibited Tebow from putting in the required hours to improve his throwing motion.

3) Tebow himself said he didn’t want to change too much about his motion, so as not to affect the Gators’ national title hopes in 2009.

Meyer deserves criticism on some fronts, but this topic simply isn’t one of them.

Florio posted a response that unfairly, from everything I've seen of Volin's work suggested Volin was playing to the base but also made some legitimate points.

In other words, the Gators wanted to fix Tebow's motion so they hired a guy to help him fix it. But they didn't want to really fix it because it might have screwed up his ability to not beat Alabama. And they didn't have enough time to fix it, anyway. ...

Our criticism of Meyer focuses not on 2009 but on 2006, 2007, and 2008 as well.

Volin, in an update to the post linked to above:

1) Tebow’s poor mechanics were diagnosed by UF’s Biometrics and Motion Analysis Lab in June 2006, before he even played a down at UF, and he continued to work in the lab throughout his freshmen and sophomore years (and probably his last two years, too).

2) Tebow’s quote Monday that "I’ve never been asked to shorten or quicken my release and not have a loop in it" is total PR spin and completely throws his UF coaches under the bus.

3) When Tebow’s coach (Mullen) left for Mississippi State, the Gators made sure to specifically hire a pro-style quarterbacks coach (Loeffler), who has a history of working with NFL quarterbacks (Brady, Henne, Brian Griese).

4) After four years of coaching and tweaking and having every advantage available to him, Tebow’s throwing motion is still a mess.

5) Despite his faulty throwing motion, Meyer helped Tebow become one of the most statistically accomplished quarterbacks in NCAA history.

At some point, shouldn’t the onus to improve be on the player rather than the coach?

First of all, congratulations are in order for Mike Florio: He's finally gotten the Florida-based media to start criticizing Tim Tebow. That alone is worthy of an award.

But to Volin's arguments -- and that's a lengthier quote than I usually like, but there's much more in Volin's post and you should read it yourself -- um, this is an example of how some of the folks in this debate are trying to have it both ways. Urban Meyer shouldn't have tried to change Tebow's motion, but he did try to change Tebow's motion, even though it didn't matter because Tebow is good regardless of his motion. In some ways, while I disagree the most with Bianchi's argument, it is at least intellectually consistent on one level: If it doesn't matter whether Meyer tried to change Tebow's motion, it doesn't matter.

On some level, this whole argument is a bit ridiculous and pretentious; none of us can predict with any certainty whether Tebow will be successful in the League. If he is, all this will be a pointless debate. If he's not, there might be more of a reason to argue about it.

Here's the biggest problem, though, with the attempt to absolve Meyer by saying he tried to change Tebow's motion or give him the chance to fix his motion: How good of a coach can Meyer be if those efforts failed?

Play Ball!
Scores from Wednesday: Florida 7, UCF 6; Georgia 11, Presbyterian 3; LSU 2, McNeese State 1. Florida's game against Siena tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET is the only Thursday baseball.

This is important -- I think
Jarvis Varnado of Mississippi State has broken a "record" for the number of "blocks" in a game called "basketball."

I know this is important -- LSU WINS!
After LSU finally avoids a winless season, And The Valley Shook seems to be somewhere between confused and overjoyed.

The Tigers have never been this balanced, and it's never had this many guys step up and play hard.

That kind of goes without saying, doesn't it?

Tyrik Rollison transfers
He's going to Sam Houston State in a decision his father said wasn't easy. One would hope.

"I wouldn't say it was an easy decision. It was tough, but it was time to move on," Michael Kelly said. After that, though, Kelly said he'd have no additional comment.

Auburn doesn't really suffer from a lack of quarterback options, but Rollison was still a highly-rated recruit.

It should pull a 90 share in the state
ESPN will televise A-Day again.

It's not like 'Summer of the Shark' or anything, but still ...
Despite the Tim Tebow concussion, brain injuries seem to be going down in college football, according to one report.

The concussion rate dropped from 3.4 per 1,000 football players in 2004 to 2.4 in 2005. The figure was no higher than 2.8 in the three seasons that followed. The rate includes concussions reported during both games and practice. ...

Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, said he doesn’t read much into the study’s findings.

"When you talk concussions in football, it’s grossly underreported," Cantu said. "I’m not impressed one way or the other with this data convincing me there’s any less concussions in football today."

While Cantu's skepticism is to some degree warranted -- as is skepticism about any numbers used in a sentence with the words "football" and "concussions" -- it seems that this would be good news on some level unless there's some reason to believe the underreported has increased in recent years.