NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Tim Tebow is ready for anything. It is unclear how the New York Jets will use the league’s most talked about quarterback, but the 24-year-old will do whatever the Jets ask of him.
He might also run the ball for some big gains.
And hand it off, too.
The NFL’s most popular backup quarterback could also play some on special teams as the punt protector and throw his body around while clobbering returners.
“Whatever I’m asked to do,” Tebow said during minicamp last month, “I’m going to do it.”
And everyone will be watching. With plenty of scrutiny.
He’s New York’s not-so-secret weapon — and the team’s biggest mystery heading into training camp. Tebow is not a starter and has no defined role yet, but is expected to be a major part of the offense. He’s listed as a quarterback — Mark Sanchez’s backup, at that — but that’s just merely a label as far as Rex Ryan is concerned.
“He’s a football player,” the Jets coach said. “We’ve said it for a long time. This guy’s an excellent football player and a great competitor.”
Tebow also commands the spotlight. With his humble, aw-shucks persona and strong Christian beliefs, he’s a fan favorite with the devoted following of a rock star. Billboards welcomed Tebowmania to the New York/New Jersey area after he was traded from Denver in March, and his green and white No. 15 Jets jersey is already one of the league’s most popular. The front of his locker was jam-packed with reporters whenever he spoke during the offseason.
Again, for the backup quarterback.
As for on the field, the Jets have revealed only this: Tebow will see plenty of action, likely out of a wildcat-style package, anywhere from a couple of plays to, as Ryan suggested, maybe as many as 20 per game.
It’s not necessarily a two-quarterback system, but rather, they envision Tebow as a souped-up version of wide receiver Brad Smith, the former college quarterback now with the Bills who was used sparingly in the Jets’ wildcat for a few seasons.
“We were very effective running the wildcat and he’s basically replacing Brad in that role,” Ryan said. “He’s also your backup quarterback and he’s also your personal protector, as was Brad Smith. So there are a lot of things that you can get, not just being the No. 2 quarterback, that I thought was great for us. We know this guy’s a football player. He’s won a lot of games as a quarterback in this league already so we feel great about that, having depth at the quarterback position.”
But what does it all mean for Sanchez, who was labeled the next coming of Joe Namath a few years ago during consecutive trips to the AFC championship game?
The challenge for Ryan and new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano during training camp will be to figure out how to maximize Tebow’s terrific athleticism while not interrupting the offense’s rhythm — or damaging Sanchez’s confidence. That will be the key to a season in which the Jets are hoping to rebound from last year’s 8-8 disappointing finish and return to the playoffs.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help this team win football games,” said Tebow, who repeated that sentiment throughout the offseason. “I’ll give my heart and soul whenever I step on that field and even when I’m on the sidelines. And at the end of the day, that’s all you can really ask of someone.”
The Jets have made it clear that Sanchez is the undisputed starting quarterback and Tebow a backup who’ll do a lot more than just hold a clipboard. But, can Tebow and Sanchez really co-exist, especially when the backup is the most popular player on the roster — if not the entire league?
Fans grumbled last season whenever Sanchez made mistakes, and there were plenty of them as he threw 18 interceptions and lost eight fumbles. If that ugly trend continues, those same booing fans will be joined by the thousands of “Tebowmaniacs” who followed Tebow from Denver to New York and want nothing more than to see him start for the Jets.
And what if Sanchez struggles and some teammates pine for Tebow Time, causing quite the conundrum for Ryan and his staff? That’s when Sanchez’s confidence — and ego — will really be tested.
“I think our team does a good job of pushing each other,” Sanchez said, “and Tim only adds to that.”
Many fans and media think it’s only a matter of time before Tebow eventually supplants Sanchez as the No. 1 guy for the Jets. It’s a situation that has been analyzed and criticized from the minute New York stunned the league by acquiring Tebow.
“I think we were the only people who never had a problem with it, it seemed like,” Ryan said. “We look at it as we’re adding a good football player, which we did. Is he behind Sanchez on the depth chart? Yes. Just like every team has a guy behind their starting quarterback. But he brings so much more to the table.”
In other words, forget that Tebow is a quarterback.
Sure, he led a handful of jaw-dropping comebacks — including a late 95-yard TD drive against the Jets — while helping the Broncos make the playoffs after taking over for Kyle Orton last season. But the fact Tebow is built like a fullback at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, and is one of the strongest guys on the team could benefit an offense — particularly in goal-line situations — that will take a run-first approach, just as Ryan likes it.
Shonn Greene is the starting running back, and Joe McKnight the change-of-pace guy but Tebow could take some direct snaps and rumble out of the backfield for big gains. There could also be moments when Sanchez and Tebow are lined up together — Sanchez as the quarterback and Tebow as, well, that’s for defenses to figure out.
Sanchez, of course, can ward off any controversy by improving in his fourth season, and allowing Tebow’s presence to actually take some pressure off him by adding another dimension to the offense. Whether that’s at quarterback, running back, tight end or whatever else the Jets can come up with.
“The things that he did at the University of Florida, all he did was win ballgames,” wide receiver Santonio Holmes recently said of Tebow on the NFL Network. “He came to the NFL and all he did was make a few plays and help win very big ballgames when people counted them out. I think he’s going to be that same guy coming to New York.”
How should the Jets use the multi-talented Tebow? Let us hear your thoughts…
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