By Ernie Palladino
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For the amount of protection the Jets’ offensive line provides its quarterbacks, Tim Tebow will be their starting quarterback sooner than later.

Rex Ryan didn’t exactly say that the other day, but he might as well have. As if he hasn’t played enough with Mark Sanchez’ fragile head, now comes word that the slimmed-down coach has plans to fatten up Tebow’s repertoire. Believe it or not, such a move could throw the Jets’ front office, from Woody Johnson to the guy who sells those overpriced and still available PSLs, into states of ecstasy.

Just imagine what those guys were thinking as they watched Tebow scramble away from the pressure for 34 yards in Friday‘s preseason opener against the Bengals, and then in Monday’s workout go 5-of-6 in 7-on-7s against, well, his own guys.

It should be noted that Sanchez was 11-for-11 in those same drills, and the two of them had completed 14 straight passes at one point.

For those unfamiliar with practice drills, 7-on-7s are generally conducted against linebackers and defensive backs, all falling into coverage. In other words, none of that pesky pass rush stuff. So who knows if Tebow would have done half that well against defenders working across from a right side that pass-protects as proficiently as the Mets’ lineup hits homers.

But that’s not the point with Ryan, or any of the other heads-of-Jets. It never is with this burgeoning Sanchez/Tebow duel, a pistol-shoot Sanchez appears doomed to fail. He needs to face the reality now; Ryan wants Tebow in there. Woody wants him there. Mike Tannenbaum wants him. Heck, the money people at ESPN wanted him the day the Jets signed him as a so-called backup.

And that means the fans want him. If they don’t right now, they’re sure to in a few weeks when Sanchez throws his first pick against Buffalo. Sanchez’ job, of course, is to prevent such an occurrence. But, well, you know. Things happen. And when it does, don’t think Ryan will hesitate for a minute in putting THE MOST FAMOUS BACKUP IN NFL HISTORY in there.

So what’s the problem? Even this space thought picking up Denver’s former starter was a good move after the ancient and hurting Peyton Manning landed there.

Why the complaints?

Because in the beginning (hey, let’s get biblical!) Tebow was regarded as a gimmick. Sure, bring him in. Let him run the Wildcat; 10, 12 snaps a game. And if Sanchez went down injured, at least you’d have a quarterback who had thrown a pass in an NFL game. Maybe not a pretty pass, and maybe not for any great stats. But one could live with that.

Now, however, it seems like Ryan is pushing Tebow. The first real glimpse will come this week, when the Jets unveil the Tebow-based Wildcat against the Giants. They must be planning something big, since they prohibited the media from disclosing any details of the Wildcat’s performance against the first-team defense in Monday’s practice, which in a not-so-strange coincidence was closed to the public.

That is what Tebow is there for, though. It’s Ryan’s “I’m open to anything” attitude that should have Sanchez more worried than he usually is. Rex can be a bit of a loose cannon with these things, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him embrace the Wildcat as a semi-base offense as tightly as he did last year’s brainiac move of turning Sanchez into the NFL’s next great passer.

That one didn’t quite work. And if Ryan thinks one can succeed in the AFC East with an offense based on a bunch of college gadgets, he might want to rethink his position right now. Bill Belichick, for one, will eat him alive.

The thing about the Jets’ division is that teams need someone who can step back and throw the ball. Right now, that is Sanchez, not Tebow. That said, it is more important to get achy Wayne Hunter, Austin Howard, or whoever else might end up at right tackle playing like a real pass protector. If they don’t, Sanchez will certainly buckle under the pressure.

Then the Jets will be stuck with a gimmick-based offense, led by a gimmick quarterback.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t sound like the head coach is afraid of that. Or an owner who wants badly to sell tickets. Or the fans, so entranced by a genuinely nice, God-fearing quarterback who needs the help of all the angels in heaven to throw a football on the money.

Tebow will be an asset to the offense if he’s used properly.

But the words properly and constantly should not be construed as synonymous.

Do you see Tebow starting as an inevitability? Be heard in the comments below…