Tim Tebow's legs are way ahead of his arm

Jets quarterback Tim Tebow and head coach Rex Ryan talk about the backup's progress at training camp. Videojournalist: Robert Cassidy (July 30, 2012)

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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CORTLAND, N.Y.

All eyes are on Tim Tebow here, naturally.

Fans perk up when he gets behind center in 11-on-11 drills. Reporters track his passing statistics -- in practice!

ESPN reports his every move, then provides analysis of said moves, then employs people to yell at each other about them. (If there is anyone left in Bristol, Conn., this week, please turn off the lights on your way out.)

But through it all what has emerged after four days of camp is this: precisely what most of us would have expected based on his previous work.

Tebow does not throw the ball consistently straight.

Tebow does consistently look good when he tucks the ball under his arm and runs.

Tebow is an intriguing potential weapon as "personal protector" on punt plays.

So, there you have it. No surprises. And confirmation of what many Jets fans have been thinking all along: If Mark Sanchez is injured or ineffective over an extended stretch . . . well, they'd prefer not to think about that.

Speaking of Sanchez, he has looked mostly sharp so far and certainly has more zip and accuracy on his passes than does his backup. If Tebow's presence has helped inspire that, that itself would justify him being in green.

"I think before they even play a game it's paid dividends," said famously avid Jets fan Ira Lieberfarb -- better known as WFAN caller Ira from Staten Island -- as he watched practice the other day.

"Look at the way he came into camp. He bulked up. It's a positive . . . The trouble is, they have to hope Mark plays well because if he doesn't, they have a problem on their hands."

There's the rub.

Tebow certainly can generate attention and he probably can generate yardage in a limited, creative role. But beyond that?

After enjoying perhaps his best practice Monday (players were off yesterday), Tebow said despite "ups and downs" he is getting increasingly comfortable.

The Jets' intricate, aggressive defense has forced him to be sharp, he said, learning to adjust at the line even as he helps younger players on the second unit figure out where they are going.

Yet to be unveiled are the Wildcat plays that showcase Tebow's ability to run. Coach Rex Ryan said that is coming; Tebow said he is ready.

"I just look forward to whatever opportunities I get, whatever my role is," he said.

Tebow's passes have drawn some groans from onlookers, and on Monday one misfire drew a tongue-lashing from offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. Tebow said he should have checked down to a short crossing pattern rather than throw a deep post.

"It was, 'Hey, know the situation, this is third-and-medium, take the check-down, let's play the odds there,' " Tebow said of Sparano's lecture.

By far the biggest cheers for Tebow have come on scrambles, including one Monday when he escaped pressure to run for about 25 yards, exploiting a two-deep zone that makes reading coverages more difficult but long runs easier.

"Running comes naturally," he said with a laugh. "I've been doing it for a long time."

Tebow worked on his throwing in the offseason and said his delivery now is quicker and more compact. But one of the things coaches are most concerned about is his tendency to hold on to the ball too long.

It has been interesting reading between the lines of teammates' comments about Tebow. They all praise his work ethic, character and running ability. The passing game? Work in progress, or words to that effect.

Asked Monday about Tebow's progress, Ryan started by saying he has to get rid of the ball more quickly, then he veered off into a detailed discussion of his running threat.

Sanchez has said all the right things and seems to mean them, but check out this answer about the improvement he has seen in Tebow:

"Tim specifically, he does a great job," Sanchez said. "Especially when he pulls it down to run, this guy can move. It's not easy to track him. He's elusive in the pocket and he's made some really good throws."

That pretty much sums it up. He's elusive and has made some really good throws. Some, yes. Enough? Not yet.

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