Brandon Lawrence - FCS Assoc. Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When Tim Tebow was brought in to Philadelphia for a workout with the Eagles several weeks ago, the popular answer to the question "Why?" was largely that it was a public relations stunt.
Tebow hasn't played in the NFL since the 2012 season, when he completed six of his eight pass attempts in 12 games for the New York Jets.
He was signed on with the New England Patriots for a brief period, reuniting him with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (the man who drafted Tebow in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft when he was the head coach of the Denver Broncos). But Tebow was released when the Patriots trimmed their roster down to 53 players, and Tebow has been on the sidelines ever since.
Media outlets in town were abuzz when Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly brought Tebow in for a workout, trying to justify why the Eagles, who traded away previous starting quarterback Nick Foles in the offseason to the St. Louis Rams in a swap for Sam Bradford, would want to give Tebow the attention.
Perhaps Kelly owed Urban Meyer a favor. Perhaps he wanted to drum up some interest in Tebow so other organizations would show interest. Maybe Tebow, whose unofficial mantra is "All he does is win," was the quarterback Kelly was looking for to fit his read-option style of offensive play. Is Tebow the backup plan if Kelly doesn't land Oregon rookie signal caller Marcus Mariota in the upcoming draft?
Then the move happened. Tebow signed a one-year contract with the Eagles, which included no guaranteed money. If he makes the roster, he's likely to be the third quarterback on a team that already has a handful with Bradford, Mark Sanchez (who signed a two-year deal with the Eagles earlier this offseason), Matt Barkley and G.J. Kinne. That's assuming at least two don't make it to the final 53-man roster.
It's been an offseason in Philadelphia consisting of pure chaos. No one has any clue what moves Kelly will make next, and what his motives will be for them.
But maybe there's a method to his madness.
Maybe Tebow reminds him of another quarterback he coached when Kelly was the offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, which is where he developed and drew his inspiration for the creative offensive style that landed him the head coaching job at Oregon, and then in the NFL with Philadelphia.
Ricky Santos quarterbacked the UNH Wildcats from 2004 to 2007, and is not only statistically the best quarterback in New Hampshire history, but he led the Wildcats to the top overall ranking and multiple playoff appearances at the Division I-AA level (now referred to as the FCS).
Santos was the poster child for the Kelly offense at UNH. He had weapons to which he could throw (Santos holds the single-season record for most completions in school history with 301 during the 2005 campaign), but he could also tuck the ball and run.
In 2004, Santos only had one rushing score. But he exploded for eight rushing touchdowns the next season, and topped out at 12 in 2006. He added 29 touchdown passes that year and won the Walter Payton Award for the nation's most outstanding player at the I-AA level, for which he was a finalist the season prior.
Kelly graduated from New Hampshire after growing up in Manchester, about 45 minutes west of the Durham campus. UNH is where he was allowed to be creative with offensive scheme plans.
Santos was an exceptional talent for I-AA college football and the Atlantic 10 Conference (and CAA Football when the conference had a name change before the 2007 season). He was transformative and multi-talented.
Tebow was the same type of player at Florida in the Southeastern Conference, introducing a level of physicality in the run game that the quarterback position had not yet seen.
Like Santos, Tebow played four years collegiately. Both players peaked their sophomore seasons in terms of touchdown passes (39 for Santos, 32 for Tebow). Santos finished his career with 123 touchdown passes versus 33 interceptions, while Tebow passed for 88 career scores and was intercepted only 16 times.
Santos gained 1,516 rushing yards with 30 TDs in four years on 506 carries, while Tebow rushed 692 times for 2,947 yards and 57 scores. Perhaps the most equating college statistic between the two was completion percentage. Santos bottomed out at 63.8 percent his first year, while Tebow dropped to 64.4 percent his junior campaign. Santos played two seasons in which he connected on greater than 70 percent of his pass attempts.
Of course, Tebow had a polarizing career in the NFL before this stint, while Santos signed with Kansas City and was released in the same month after the 2008 NFL Draft. He later went on to the Canadian Football League and bounced around without finding a home.
When Kelly looks at Tebow, maybe he sees a similar type of player who helped him originally gain acclaim with the Wildcats.
If that's true, then it wouldn't be Kelly's first attempt at drawing old New Hampshire connections into his NFL lifestyle.
Before the 2013 season in Philadelphia, Kelly, in his first year with the team, signed David Ball into Eagles camp. Ball was Santos's top receiving weapon at New Hampshire, and is statistically one of the best I-AA/FCS receivers in history.
At New Hampshire, under Kelly's watchful eye, Ball caught 58 career touchdown passes - the most by any I-AA receiver in history. He is also second all-time behind former Elon receiver Terrell Hudgins with 27 career games gaining at least 100 receiving yards, and he ranks third all-time in receiving yards with 4,655.
Kelly plucked Ball out of coaching high school football and teaching physical education in Vermont to revive his NFL dream. Ball went undrafted in 2007, but was signed by the Chicago Bears as a rookie free agent. He was cut later in the offseason. The only time Ball ever suited up during an NFL game was with the Jets on Dec. 30, 2007. He didn't see the field.
Ball was injured in the 2013 preseason and then subsequently released by the Eagles, ending the 29-year-old's playing career and Kelly's golden opportunity to directly bring his UNH success to the NFL.
If Kelly doesn't land Mariota in the upcoming NFL Draft, there's an easy fix waiting in the wings. Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett played for Kelly at Oregon for several seasons before transferring to the FCS Lions in search of a starting QB gig. Bennett played behind Mariota with the Ducks, but saw action in 17 career games during his two seasons in Eugene.
Bennett could be Kelly's man again if Mariota is off the board and the Eagles go after another signal caller. His dual-threat style of play is similar to that of Mariota's. And to Santos'.
Unless his play (specifically his passing ability) has vastly improved since the last time he was in the NFL, then Tebow could be nothing more than a fill- in for the time being. With no guaranteed money to his deal with the Eagles, Tebow is essentially in town for a tryout.
But what if things have changed and Kelly has struck gold? Can Kelly turn the ventured Tebow into his next Santos?
Maybe it won't be with Tebow at quarterback, but perhaps Mariota. Or Bennett or Bradford or another player. The consensus on Bradford is that he doesn't fit Kelly's "system" - the system the coach developed in New Hampshire and is possibly still looking to recreate in the NFL.