Back in the spring of 2010, when the chorus of NFL scouts, general managers and coaches rejected Tim Tebow, a lone voice shouted against the roar.
"I spent five hours with (Tebow)," says longtime NFL scout and personnel executive Ken Herock, "and I knew he was special."
Perhaps the naysayers should have listened, because Herock knew something of what he was talking about. He was, after all, the man who drafted Brett Favre, Steve Young and Doug Williams.
"I feel I have a terrific track record with quarterbacks," says Herock, once the personnel director for the Falcons and Buccaneers, and now the owner of a business that helps prospects prepare for the NFL Draft.
In Tebow, Herock saw a player much like the three Super Bowl champion quarterbacks he picked.
"I was the only one," Herock says of his certainty about Tebow.
It is not vindication Herock seeks now that Tebow has helped lead the Denver Broncos to an improbable AFC West title and an even more unlikely first-round playoff victory. He is 70 and long retired from daily work as a team executive. But he does consult for teams on occasion and he operates a clinic every winter, training players for their interviews with clubs at the Draft Combine. The clinic allows him to see players in a way even few team executives do: alone in a room for several hours with just the truth on the table.
He would not be only one to see something in Tebow. The Broncos coach at the time, Josh McDaniels, interviewed the Florida star at the Combine and left with the same impression. Those who were in the room that day said they were amazed at the way Tebow could dissect not only his college offense at Florida but also those of the Broncos as well as the Chargers and Patriots. They had never seen anything like it. And it was the beginning of an all-out Denver pursuit of Tebow that led to the Broncos taking him in the draft's first round.
But what the Broncos staff saw in Tebow, Herock noticed first. He saw it in the way the quarterback took apart offenses as cleanly as any player he's ever watched. He saw it when he played the role of a team executive, asking the tough questions and suggesting that Tebow was another Alex Smith -- then considered a bust -- because both played for Urban Meyer in college.
"Now hold on there Mr. Herock," Tebow interrupted, going on to say the comparison was not valid considering his Heisman Trophy and the two national championships he was a part of at Florida.
Herock chuckles into the phone. There is a feistiness to Tebow that many don’t often see.
"I told him, 'Make sure you tell (the NFL teams) that,'" Herock says.
Mostly though, he loved Tebow as a quarterback, which, of course, is where most NFL personnel people did not find the same brilliance. Yet as with Favre, Young and Williams, Herock believes Tebow has a resourcefulness lacking in the other prospects.
"He’s just like a coach," Herock says. "He can see things. He’s not particularly fast. He’s not particularly quick. He has good vision when he runs. He sees the holes when he runs. He’s got a special gift for seeing things on the field. He has a sixth-sense vision."
"There are so many things you can do with him,” he continues. "There are things you can do with him that they did years ago. When Len Dawson was the quarterback at Kansas City they had the moving pocket. They could so something like that with Tebow."
Even Tebow's much-criticized throwing motion didn't bother Herock, who counters by saying the quarterback's arm is strong and that things like a motion can be adjusted with coaching.
"Most of the great ones have worked at it," Herock says. "We worked out Danny Wuerffel (another former Florida quarterback) when I was working at Green Bay and he was throwing rainbow balls. (Tebow) doesn’t throw anything like that. I said to him 'Repetition will make you better.'"
None of what Herock says now is new. He has not crawled from the shadows now that Tebow is the story of the NFL. He practically shouted his praise of Tebow before the 2010 draft, telling everyone who called that the looming superstar in the group was the player about whom most were rolling their eyes. "He has the wisdom of a 40 or 50-year old," he said at the time, "in a 20-year-old kid."
Only now more people can hear him. So much of the talk this week will be about McDaniels' sudden return to the Patriots, where he worked for eight years before taking the Broncos job, and how McDaniels took a chance on Tebow that others didn’t dare. But before McDaniels there was Ken Herock and no one else. He screamed but few paid attention.
"My God that guy is special," Herock says.
They're listening now.
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