EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It’s Tebow Time for the New York Jets, and Super Mario’s big debut for the Buffalo Bills.
Tim Tebow and Mario Williams, two of the NFL’s highest-profile players, joined new teams this offseason and are hoping to have huge impacts — starting with the regular-season opener at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Fans nationwide have been eagerly anticipating Tebow’s NFL regular season debut for “Gang Green” on Sunday. Many, including Bills’ Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly have questioned the Jets’ motives in bringing in Tebow.
No matter how many detractors question Tebow, Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan has his quarterback’s back.
“You kind of sit back and go, ‘whew,'” Ryan said. “He’s a tremendous player. Your first thought is you’re going against him, then you think, ‘He does get to play New England twice, so that’s kind of a good thing.’ If we can survive, hopefully New England will struggle with him. That’s it. It’s like, ‘Whew.’ The conference, our league is getting better. You steal one of the top pass rushers in the game. Clearly, you think, ‘Oh man.’ You hope that he doesn’t go into our division, but here he is.”
And, so is Tebow, the popular backup quarterback whose role in New York’s offense has been kept mostly under wraps all offseason to keep defenses on their toes. Tebow will work in new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano’s wildcat packages and as the personal punt protector on special teams.
Beyond that, anybody’s guess is as good as Buffalo’s.
“If you get somebody that can throw the football and still be able to run it effectively, he creates a problem in the wildcat,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “And that’s what you are trying to do. You’re trying to find that guy that can just keep them honest enough in the wildcat where they can’t just throw everybody right on the line of scrimmage. That’s what Tebow’s proven he can do.”
Tebow, acquired by New York from Denver in March, will work anywhere from a handful to 20 plays each week, depending on the game and the opponent. He and starter Mark Sanchez have said all the right things throughout the offseason, but many fans and media insist this is a combustible situation that can have fans chanting for Tebow to supplant Sanchez at the first sign of trouble.
“I just want to be able to help any way I can,” Tebow said. “Hopefully, I’m able to do something to help this team win football games.”
That’s the plan. And, the Jets believe having Tebow is a lot better than not having him, mainly for the problems he creates for defenses who need to plan and account for him, and the marketing gold he provides off the field because of his overwhelming popularity.
“Tim obviously helps us, he really does,” Sanchez said. “He can run, he can throw, he can do it all. So, hopefully we’ll give teams their fair share of Tebow and see what they can do.”
The Bills are thinking the same of Williams, who is sure to give offensive linemen fits in the AFC East. He poses an incredibly tough task for young right tackle Austin Howard, who was named the Jets’ starter after beating out the since-traded Wayne Hunter for the job a few weeks ago.
“Probably the only thing worse than that would be (facing) the (DeMarcus) Ware kid,” Ryan said of Dallas’ sack-happy star. “That probably would be the only bigger challenge.”
Well, Howard actually has faced Ware before — in his only other NFL start, with Philadelphia in 2010.
“I learned a lot from that game about pass blocking and technique,” Howard said, “from the whole game experience in itself.”
Williams set a Texans franchise record with 53 sacks, including five in five games last season, cut short after tearing a pectoral muscle. Fittingly, the injury came on a sack.
“My thing is that I am really more excited about just getting back out there on the field,” said Williams, who could be lined up on both the right and left side throughout the game. “With everything that has happened with my situation, I just want to get back out there and play ball. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing, no matter who it’s against. You should be champing the bit against whoever you are facing.”
Whether it’s Sanchez in the conventional offense or Tebow in the wildcat, the Jets will be going up against a defense that is much-improved from the one that allowed a franchise-worst 5,938 yards last season. Buffalo has switched to a 4-3 defensive system with the line anchored by tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, and Williams and new defensive end Mark Anderson — who had 10 sacks for New England last season.
“They built that defense to be a strength up front with the front seven and especially the front four,” Jets right guard Brandon Moore said. “They are tough across the board. Their four starters up front may be the best in the league as a group. Those two guys in the middle, Dareus and Williams, can get pressure and they put a lot of stock on defense in that.”
And, in their playoff hopes. The expectations in Buffalo are sky-high right now, with the Bills looking to end their 12-season playoff drought — the NFL’s longest active streak after Detroit made the playoffs last year.
It appeared the Bills might take that step a season ago with a 5-2 start, but injuries and a lack of experienced depth contributed to them fading to a 1-8 finish.
The Jets are also looking to move on from their subpar 2011 season, when they lost their last three games to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the first time in Ryan’s three years as coach.
“I definitely think (Sunday) puts last year in the rear-view mirror,” Ryan said. “We get to prove it, we get to see what kind of team we are. The experts think we’re one team, and we think we’re different. We’ll see who’s right.”
How will Tebow fare on Sunday? Share your predictions below…
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