FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tim Tebow had a rough day throwing the ball in his first training camp practice. But he caught a short toss during a screen-passing drill.
His future with the New England Patriots, if he has one, may depend on that kind of versatility rather than his questionable quarterbacking skills.
And the arrest of tight end Aaron Hernandez, of course, his former teammate at Florida, could help his chances.
Coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t commit Friday to using Tebow only at quarterback, where his throwing mechanics were faulty while with the Denver Broncos and New York Jets.
“I think that we’ll use Tim wherever we feel like he’s best for the team,” said Belichick, always careful not to tip his hand but not averse to dropping hints that may steer observers in the wrong direction, “and I know that’s what he’s committed to doing as well, whatever that is.”
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Tebow has the size to play tight end and H-back but said he’s only been in the quarterback room during positional meetings with the Patriots.
But he departed from his insistence that he wanted to play only that position.
“I’m going to do what coach asks me to do,” he said.
Belichick values players who can contribute at several spots. If Tebow can do that, it may buy him some time to improve on a motion that leads to wobbly, floating passes.
Tebow and Hernandez were college stars as teammates for three years. They were reunited when the Patriots signed Tebow, who had been released by the Jets, on June 11.
Now Hernandez is being held without bail after pleading not guilty to murder in the shooting death of Boston semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd on June 17, four days after the Patriots three-day minicamp ended. They cut him after he was arrested on June 26 and before he was charged that afternoon.
“It’s heartbreaking and sad and all my thoughts and prayers go out to all the families that were involved,” Tebow said.
He declined to answer the other two questions he was asked about Hernandez — whether he was shocked and if he had any contact with Hernandez since the shooting of Lloyd.
“I understand why you have to ask all the questions. That’s part of doing your job,” Tebow said, “and part of mine is listening to instruction and we’ve been told not to talk about it.”
Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, another college teammate with Hernandez, said he couldn’t comment after being asked two questions about Hernandez on Friday.
Belichick had said on Wednesday that “I’m not trying to make the story disappear but I respect the judicial process and been advised not to comment on on-going legal proceedings. I’m advising our players to do the same thing.”
The Patriots could start the season with problems at tight end after having the best duo in the NFL at that position.
Hernandez has been released and Rob Gronkowski, recovering from back surgery, could start the season on the physically unable to perform list, requiring him to miss the first six games.
The only tight ends who played for them last year, Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells, combined for nine catches. Jake Ballard, who missed all last season recovering from knee surgery, practiced on Friday.
Rookie Brandon Ford is trying to make the team as a free agent at that position. He was the intended receiver on a pass over the middle that Tebow overthrew and was intercepted by backup safety Nate Ebner in a 7-on-7 drill.
Tebow also took snaps in 11-on-11 drills and completed six of 11 passes and had one intercepted by defensive end Chandler Jones.
Late in the practice, he took off on a long run along the left side and the crowd cheered.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Tebow said. “I felt like I made some good decisions. I’ve got to keep improving every single day. We’ll go watch the film and we’ll get better from it, but I felt good about the practice.”
The spotlight on Tebow since he joined the Patriots has been much dimmer than it was last season in New York where the inconsistent play of starting quarterback Mark Sanchez sparked calls for Tebow to replace him.
But the Patriots have Tom Brady at quarterback and Ryan Mallett as the backup. They also have Belichick, who instructs his players to limit their public comments, an extreme change from the approach of Jets coach Rex Ryan.
“It’s nice to be advised on things and (to) feel like (I) have it structured,” Tebow said. “I’m going to do what they ask me to do and I feel like it goes with everybody on the team. I feel like we’re buying into what they’re asking us to do.”
He repeatedly said he was thinking only about getting better each day — not whether he would consider it a victory to win the second-string job over Mallett, whether last year was frustrating when he threw only eight passes or whether he was worried when he was unsigned in early June.
“I’m not worried about that right now,” Tebow said. “It was a great first day and (I’m) focused on my relationships in the locker room, I’m focused on getting better. I’m focused on learning the playbook, and that’s my focus right now. It’s not looking back on anything that happened last year, anything that happened this summer.
“It’s moving forward.”