By Kristian Dyer
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It would be easy to have turned the media circus that was Jets training camp the last three weeks into a frenzy worthy of “Shark Week” but all credit goes to Tim Tebow for failing to take the bait.
He is after all the most talked about second stringer in the history of sports, in part because of a playing style that defies the norm for his position and in part because his lifestyle defies the norm for the NFL. The devout Christian and self-proclaimed virgin is polarizing on and off the field, with rabid followers and naysayers lining up to debate his merits. Perhaps the first backup to ever grace the cover of GQ as he does this month, Tebow is fully legend and fully myth.
In terms of team chemistry and unity, especially important to the Jets this season after a contentious locker room in 2011, Tebow has not been a sinner this summer but a saint.
His arrival signaled a quarterback controversy even as the Jets made it clear that there wasn’t one. From the onset, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan diffused the idea that Tebow was brought in to challenge Mark Sanchez for the starting role, making it clear that their incumbent quarterback was the starter. Tebow was a wrinkle in the offense and a backup to Sanchez. Over and over again, Tannenbaum and Ryan said it, convincingly and truthfully.
Over and over again the national media ignored it, playing up a quarterback controversy and a battle to start under center.
Sanchez, as would be expected given his role as the incumbent starter, downplayed the angle, praising Tebow’s work ethic and unique skillset as he would any of his backups in the past from Kellen Clemens to Mark Brunell. But Tebow could have made a stink about it – he could have pressed and made it clear that he was here to start. No one would blink at the line of thinking given that he started in Denver for the second half of the season along with two playoff games. Instead, Tebow said the right things and accepted his role.
In doing so, it was the greatest play he made all preseason.
For in humbly accepting what many would see as a demotion, Tebow alleviated all the pressure and stress on the team. He made it clear to Sanchez that he was there to be his teammate and friend. To his head coach he helped quiet the rumors of a quarterback battle, downplaying the topic over and over again when pressed by the cameras and microphones surrounding him. For his new offensive coordinator in Tony Sparano, he made it a matter of where best to utilize his abilities. His teammates as well were free to talk about the fourth year Sanchez as their starter without risk of running afoul of Tebow.
Thoughts and opinions on Tebow vary, with a good number of Jets fans let alone those who watch the NFL looking at him as nothing more than a gimmick. He’s not a traditional pocket passer they say, in fact, he’s not a passer at all given a 46.5 completion percentage last season. But no one can doubt that Tebow isn’t a tremendous teammate and his class in handling question after question after question about his role on this Jets team only underscores that the kid is a football player.
Never once did Tebow even come close to toeing the line of creating a stir with his comments about his role on the team. Always, he deffered to the coaching staff on where and how best to utilize him. He accepted his role in the Wildcat as an “add-on” to the traditional offense’s package and he willingly practiced with the second team without showing as much as an ounce of frustration. Even when called into his special teams role as the personal punt protector, he took it as a challenge rather than an insult.
Instead of being pampered, Tebow went to work. Rather than pout at his demotion from a starter in Denver to a reserve role in New York, he has given it his all. Despite being incessantly pestered by the media about being the backup to Sanchez, he was humble.
In today’s NFL where “Me” is the approach of most typical athletes, the only “I” in Tebow has been in his desire to win. Herein is what makes a man who won the Heisman and Maxwell Award as college football’s top player a true star, not because of the individual accolades but because none of that mattered as much to Tebow as his team winning, no matter the cost. And in Cortland, NY for the past three weeks, what was most important from Tebow was not how well he played on the field or how he learned the offense or even how much he took from the time watching film with the rest of the quarterbacks.
It was in his he handled himself without creating a stir. For that, Tebow is the breakout star of Jets training camp.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the NFL and college football for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo!Sports as well as WFAN. He can be followed for breaking Jets news@KristianRDyer
What do you think of the way Tim Tebow has handled himself at training camp amid all the media hype? Let us know in the comments below.