Jets begin work on Wildcat package but are keeping details a secret

Tim Tebow carries the ball while taking part

Tim Tebow carries the ball while taking part in a team scrimmage during training camp. (Aug. 7, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Mark Sanchez flashed a smile but refused to reveal too much -- or anything at all. "Talk to Coach," the quarterback said.

The Jets unveiled their Tim Tebow-led Wildcat formation Monday, using the quiet backdrop of a closed practice as the scene for their first set of walk-throughs in front of the media. They practiced roughly 10 plays during their brief walk-through period and later used the Wildcat in live team drills.

Members of the media -- who are allowed to attend all training-camp practices, per league rules -- were restricted from reporting specific details related to Tebow and personnel groupings. Afterward, the shroud of secrecy shifted from the field to the interview tents, where players, including the two quarterbacks, took turns playing dumb about the well-hyped scheme.

Running back Joe McKnight feigned ignorance when asked about the team's Wildcat preparations. And Sanchez played it coy as well, deflecting all inquiries about the Jets' implementation of the Wildcat to offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.

It's no secret the Jets will use the Wildcat during the regular season, starting Sept. 9, when they open against the Bills. But the team that spent the entire offseason boasting about how dynamic its offense will be with Tebow remained tight-lipped on the first day of Wildcat practice.

"I think it can be a weapon," Sanchez said. "I think if you run it the right way, like coach Sparano will do, we can get explosive with it. We have some great athletes and we want to use all of their talents."

He wouldn't say whether the Tebow version is similar to the days of Brad Smith or if the Jets will use it Saturday against the Giants. "That's a good question," he said. "I'm going to defer to coach Sparano."

Sanchez and Tebow agreed that scheme-related info should be kept in-house, "but at the same time," Tebow said, "we've got to go out there and execute and run it. So you can't be too secretive, either."

Despite the reticent responses of his players, coach Rex Ryan denied there was a veil of secrecy surrounding Monday's practice. "We're going to run some Wildcat with Tim, that's no big secret," he said, "but whether we're going to go into great detail or not, we probably won't."

Ryan did note that the Wildcat forces other teams to alter their defensive preparation. When asked how much time he has spent in the past getting ready for the Wildcat, the former defensive coordinator didn't have a definitive answer. "Some guys say it'll take one-third of the practice, others it will take less than that," he said. "I don't know if it's that much, but I know it's on your mind."

With Tebow at the helm, Ryan believes the Jets' version of the Wildcat will be even more efficient than Ronnie Brown's in Miami several years ago. "Tim can throw the ball better," he said in comparing Tebow to the former Dolphins running back, who played under Sparano.

While most NFL teams have strayed from the Wildcat in recent years -- and perennial powers such as the Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Giants have no use for the formation -- Ryan maintains that the Wildcat can be effective. Even for teams that have elite quarterbacks. "If Bill Belichick had Tim Tebow, he might consider it,'' he said. "Who knows? You'd have to ask him.''

With each passing snap Monday, Tebow grew more excited about the possibilities under Sparano. "He's someone that's extremely creative, extremely passionate and he's going to do whatever it takes to win," he said. "And it's not same old, same old with him."

Though it was clear that he and Sanchez were briefed on permissible Wildcat talking points, Tebow said there isn't an organizational emphasis on keeping it shrouded in mystery. He added with a laugh: "I also don't know if I've seen this much interest."

Tebow said there wasn't much secrecy around Denver's read-option offense until later in the 2011 season. But despite all of the scrutiny surrounding him and the Jets, he relishes the opportunity to take snaps in his bread-and-butter formation. And with his size (6-3, 250) and athleticism, he's confident he can do some damage this season.

"Well," Tebow said with another laugh, "this is the NFL, so it does help to have a little more size and speed."

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