FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Tim Tebow was surrounded by dozens of cameras and reporters — a backup quarterback with unmatched star power.
He smiled throughout the 20 minutes he stood in front of his locker at the New York Jets’ practice facility, and predictably said all the right things. Potential quarterback controversy or not, Tebow appears unfazed.
“This is kind of the first time I’ve had to talk to y’all, so it’s really not exhausting at all,” Tebow said Thursday with a big grin. “I think it’s more if you let it become exhausting. I really don’t. I just have fun and live my life and am thankful I don’t have to worry about it too much.”
From the moment Tebow was acquired from the Denver Broncos in March, there has been speculation about what that meant for Mark Sanchez’s job security.
Will Sanchez fold under the pressure?
What game will Tebow take over as the starter?
Can the two players even co-exist on a team that is still trying to recover from locker room in-fighting that helped derail last season?
“I think it’ll be great,” Tebow said of he and Sanchez playing together. “We have a great relationship, we’re friends. We hang in the locker room and also outside the complex, so I think it’ll be great.”
Tebow is big news, no matter the topic, such as when he was asked about his dog Bronco, whom he said he was thinking of renaming Bronx to be more geographically appropriate. Well, that “news” became a trending topic on Twitter within minutes.
Meanwhile, Sanchez faced the same throng of media — about 25 feet away — just a few minutes earlier and also tried to assure everyone that everything between him and Tebow is fine and that he has never felt his job is in jeopardy.
“I think it’s been nothing but positive to this point and that’s the way I anticipate it in the future,” Sanchez said. “It’s been fun.”
Coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano have said Tebow will have extensive playing time for the Jets in various roles, including running the team’s wildcat-style package. As for now, though, Tebow is trying to catch on to a new offense and has taken snaps in workouts only as a quarterback.
“It’s all on the offense,” Tebow said. “I’m just trying to learn that. I’m sure that’ll take a little while putting in an entire offense, learning third downs and everything we want to put in. That’s our main focus right now, and not necessarily special situations or anything like that. Just trying to learn the offense.”
That means he hasn’t been studying any other position — fullback, H-back or tight end — and adds that “they haven’t told me anything” as far as whether he would play on special teams. The Jets will likely start installing those plans later in the offseason program, and Tebow insists he’s game for anything.
“You know, I always put the team first and whatever they want me to do, they know that I’ll do with all my heart,” he said. “So, I’m just trying to go out there every day and get a little bit better.”
Everyone from Ryan to owner Woody Johnson has made it clear that Sanchez is the starter and Tebow is his backup. Both quarterbacks understand their roles, and their teammates don’t think the situation has potential for creating friction or impairing Sanchez’s ability to lead.
“If the two didn’t get along so well, that could be the case,” tight end Dustin Keller said. “They get along really well, have a good working relationship. Tim’s just a great guy and you can’t be mad at the guy. They brought him in and he has been working hard, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Keller has seen the two talk constantly around the facility, and even play jokes on each other.
“You don’t do that to your enemies or guys you dislike,” he said. “Things are smooth and they’re going to continue to be.”
Both Tebow and Sanchez spoke about how they push each other in the classroom and on the field, trying to make each other better while fans and media speculate about whether this could all really work.
“I think we’ll just have a good friendship and really not let outside circumstances get in the way of our friendship or how we handle each other,” Tebow said. “I think that’s the cool thing about being friends: We can talk and we have an open relationship.”
The two young quarterbacks are driven to succeed, and they have each had terrific success in the NFL and in college.
Tebow was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida, and helped the Gators win two national championships before being drafted in the first round by Denver in 2010. He took over the starting job with the Broncos last season, and helped lead them to the playoffs — and a first-round victory over Pittsburgh — with an impressive string of comeback victories.
Sanchez led Southern California to a Rose Bowl win over Penn State in 2009 and was taken fifth overall in the draft by the Jets a few months later. He has been the starter since, winning four playoff games on the road and helping New York to consecutive AFC title games in his first two seasons.
They both have their flaws — Tebow’s mechanics and Sanchez’s inconsistency — but are fierce competitors who have won at this level as starters.
“I hope every backup quarterback wants the job of the starter,” Sanchez said. “That’s the way you have to prepare. I’ve been in those shoes in college: anticipating the game, studying like I’m the starter and then getting to the game and not playing. Fortunately for Tim, he has the ability to do other things. That’s why he’s on board. He’s a backup quarterback first and then he’ll do plenty of other stuff.”
Tebow repeatedly brushed aside questions about his role and whether he wants to overtake Sanchez, saying he just wants to keep improving and help the Jets however he can.
“I think it’s fair to say that I always want to be my best, as good as I can possibly be and push myself to the limits,” he said. “Just as far as being a quarterback or passer, it’s learning defenses and learning offenses, I’m just trying to be the best football player and person I can possibly be. That’s what I’m not going to settle for, anything less.”
Sanchez had just finished talking when he was asked if he has grown tired of the Tebow-related questions.
“No, not yet,” he said. “It’s only May.”
He was reminded that he’s going to keep getting them for the next several months, and he smiled.
“Yeah,” Sanchez said. “It’s part of the job.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)