FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It wasn't halfway through the New England Patriots' first full-squad practice Friday when Bill Belichick's script offered a tease for the intrigue.
Tim Tebow lined up with an assortment of skill-position targets — running backs, receivers, tight ends — and burst 5 yards or so in front of two defenders and caught a pass from backup quarterback Ryan Mallett.
A few minutes later, during another receiving drill when the targets took a short pass without coverage and turned up field, he caught two throws from Tom Brady.
So there was a bit of proof. Tebow, who has maintained that he wants to develop as an NFL quarterback rather than switch to another position, had better grasp the idea that to stick as the third quarterback he must be able to contribute in some other role.
"I just do what I'm told," Tebow said, surrounded by at least two dozen reporters following practice. "I'll work as hard as I possibly can to do the best job that I can with whatever I'm asked to do."
He's in no position to be picky and is so fortunate to land with the Patriots, run by the NFL's most resourceful coach in Belichick and reunited with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who as Denver Broncos coach believed enough in Tebow that he drafted him in the first round out of Florida in 2010.
The Patriots will give this a legitimate shot.
Before practice, when asked if he would use Tebow exclusively at quarterback, Belichick maintained that he would use his high-profile project "wherever we feel like he's best for the team."
Sure enough, that has to be somewhere other than quarterback.
I see an H-Back, a hybrid fullback-tight end role. Others see tight end, but I think he'd get devoured trying to block as a traditional tight end and doubt that he can be the elusive route-runner in the open field to excel in the emerging "move" tight end spot.
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"I'll do what the coach asks me to do," Tebow reiterated, sounding so scripted.
In meetings during a minicamp after he was signed in June and during the first week of training camp, when he reported with the rookies, Tebow has spent all his time with the quarterbacks.
Yet during the rain-soaked session Friday, the same type of problems that dogged Tebow as he completed 47.9% of his passes during his first three seasons showed up again with his reps at quarterback.
There were wild passes, some that sailed high and others that landed at the feet of receivers. His release is still long and slow. During one seven-on-seven play, when two equipment managers waved paddles to distract the quarterbacks, Tebow held onto the football for so long that he could have been sacked by one of the equipment managers as he rolled out looking for a target.
He also was picked off twice. A throw over the middle was intercepted by Tavon Wilson after it sailed beyond the reach of intended target Quentin Sims. Near the end of practice, running a hurry-up drill, Tebow's ugly pass off a rollout turned into an easy interception at the line of scrimmage by defensive end Chandler Jones.
"I've got to keep improving every single day," Tebow said when asked about the misfires. "We'll go watch the film and we'll get better from it. But I felt good about the practice."
Tebow being Tebow, though, he also drew one of the loudest roars from the hundreds of fans who hung tough in the steady rain to watch the session.
It came after a broken play, during a seven-on-seven drill, when Tebow rolled out and opted to bolt around the end and up the left sideline for about 30 yards.
Then came the chant: Te-Bow! Te-Bow!
Tebow said he tries not to listen to the crowd reaction. And sure enough, he didn't do anything during practice to play to the crowd.
He's certainly in a different place, with a different culture and different expectations — with the bonus of being able to learn under Brady.
Someone reminded him of the contrast to New York Jets camp, which was such a high-profile circus last summer.
It was also in Jets camp, in rainy conditions similar to Friday outside Gillette Stadium, where Tebow fueled controversy after taking off his pads and jersey to reveal his bare chest. There was no such beefcake moment Friday.
Asked if he learned from that and would think twice about creating such attention, Tebow chuckled.
"No, I'm not worried about that," he said. "It's just focus on whatever I can do in this practice. Not anything that happened last year."
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Still, last year provides context for now. When the Jets traded for Tebow, they envisioned using him for special packages that included the Wildcat. As it turned out, he barely was used. His biggest impact came with a couple of first-down runs off direct snaps as the punt protector. When Mark Sanchez was hurt, he was passed over and Greg McElroy started at quarterback.
A wasted year with the Jets?
"I feel like every situation is a learning opportunity in life," he said. "Not only in football, but in everything you do in life. There's ups, there's downs, there's learning opportunities, there's praise, there's criticism and you've got to handle everything."
He couldn't bring himself to acknowledge the frustration of last season.
"It's this year," he said.
Yes, he has new hope. Especially if they can find something else for Tebow to do while he tries to improve techniques as a quarterback.
This might be his last shot. The Jets released Tebow after the draft in April, and he didn't land with the Patriots until early June.
"I'm focused on today, getting better today," he said. "Not anything that's going to happen down the road. As a football player, as a competitor, you have to have that attitude."
And in his case, Tebow must also have a utility role to grow with.