CORTLAND, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It’s Tebow Time. Finally.
After months of hype, a summer highlighted by a shirtless jog through the rain and constant media scrutiny, Tim Tebow is set to make his playing debut for the Jets in their preseason opener against the Bengals on Friday night in Cincinnati.
“I just want to get in there, try to execute the offense and get in and out of checks,” Tebow said.
Coach Rex Ryan plans to have Mark Sanchez and the rest of the starters play about one quarter, and Tebow could play about two quarters with the backups. Sanchez said he’s ready for a test run under new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.
“It’s going to be fun for us to get going and see what a real game is like with Coach Sparano,” said Sanchez. “How he will handle the headset, where he’s going to be standing, where I go after guys, exactly where we sit down, those little things. You develop your routine and we’ll all know that by the end of this game.”
Tebow has worked mostly with the second-team offense throughout training camp, but took two snaps with the starters Wednesday and threw a pretty 60-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Turner. Sparano and the Jets (No. 17 in the AP Pro32) have kept their plans for Tebow in their wildcat-style package mostly under wraps, unveiling only a brief look at a play or two in camp while they continue to work on his mechanics and footwork.
“I think we’ll see how Tony uses him,” Ryan said. “Generally, the (second team) gets extended and sometimes they play a half or two quarters, so we’ll see if that’s in Tony’s plan or not.”
Then, Ryan broke out into a smile.
“Wildcat,” he said, “is something that Cincinnati needs to prepare for right now.”
Which means the Bengals (No. 14 in the AP Pro32) probably won’t see much of it. Ryan said “I doubt” Tebow will get any snaps with the first-team offense Friday night. Since it’s still so early in the preseason, the Jets are still installing their offense and just want to get a feel for some of the fringe players on their roster.
“It’s going to be vanilla,” Sparano said. “We didn’t plan at all here. We didn’t sit in that office and game plan at all. We’re talking about personnel right now. We’re going to go out there and we’re just going to line up and let the guys play and get a chance to evaluate young players. I think that’s what the preseason’s all about.”
But the Bengals know they’ll probably see plenty of Tebow in Cincinnati — which was actually the site of his first NFL game: Denver’s preseason opener in 2010.
He went 8 of 13 for 105 yards in the second half of the Broncos’ 33-24 loss in that one, but it was the final play that was the most memorable. He scrambled 7 yards for a touchdown, getting blasted by linebacker Abdul Hodge before running over safety Kyries Hebert to score. Tebow said he tore an oblique muscle and thought Hebert got a concussion on the play.
“Yeah, I remember, just because I’m super competitive, the meaningless last play of the game,” Tebow said, smiling. “Maybe 4 seconds left, 3 seconds left on the clock, and we’re at maybe the 8-yard line going in and I drop back and I don’t have anyone and so I’m scrambling around and I run and I dive in the end zone and have a big collision.”
Tebow remembered thinking: “I’ve got to be the first one to get up.”
He was, and it was all worth it.
“Absolutely,” he said, laughing. “I mean, that’s who I am. So, yeah it was fun.”
Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap knows all about the Jets quarterback after they were teammates at the University of Florida.
“It will be pretty good to actually get my hands on him and get him down,” Dunlap said, joking that he never got to touch him during practice as Gators teammates. “It will be friendly after the game and before the game, but during the game, we’ll compete.”
Tebow has worked as the punt protector on special teams throughout camp, so he could be in position to actually tackle someone himself.
“I don’t know, I’ve never done it before,” Tebow said with a laugh when asked what he’ll be expecting on that first punt. “It’ll be fun. We’ll figure out what they’re doing and hopefully have something good ready for them.”
The Jets are just happy to be hitting a team in different colors after a testy week of practices that included a 20-player melee on Monday and Ryan ordering his players to run laps as punishment Tuesday for some more skirmishes.
Add in all the media attention Tebow’s presence has garnered — especially when he ran shirtless from the practice field in the rain early in camp — and the Jets have owned the preseason headlines.
Meanwhile, the Bengals have had a very quiet summer, with the only major news being cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, the team’s top draft pick, not being cleared yet for practice after hurting his left knee before camp. Coach Marvin Lewis even ordered his players not to use Twitter during training camp, and the players have gone along with the quiet approach.
“We are going to play the headline team, so it’s good,” Lewis said. “But they deserve it, they are a good football team that is well coached, they have very good players. They were disappointed in their season last year just like we were disappointed in our 2010 season. They didn’t fall back like we did, but were disappointed. Now they’ve got something to prove just like we feel we’ve got something to prove.”
Last year, Lewis played his starters for the first half of their opening preseason game, but mainly because he was trying to get rookie quarterback Andy Dalton ready to take over as the starter. Dalton and the rest of the Bengals’ starters won’t play as much this time against the Jets.
“We’ll give them certain goals to reach, and if they reach them, they can earn their way out or in, whatever way you want to look at it,” Lewis said. “But I do think it’s a great opportunity for us to look at some guys who haven’t played as much. We’ll get a chance for sure to do that on Friday night.”
And the Bengals will likely see plenty of Tebow, too.
“I think with us, it’s a new offense and I think everybody needs reps,” Ryan said. “Will we extend the first offense more than a quarter? We’ll see. I think Tim and everybody else needs the opportunity to go against live competition. I think that’s where he excels.”
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