Jets making Tim Tebow a threat on punts

Jets quarterback Tim Tebow scrambles out of the

Jets quarterback Tim Tebow scrambles out of the backfield after getting defensive pressure during a team scrimmage. (Aug. 4, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- During NFL camps, rarely does anyone focus on the "personal protector" in punt coverage.

Until Tim Tebow took a crack at the job, that is.

The position mostly involves standing between the snapper and punter, calling signals, then blocking and/or tackling. The Jets have been using their new backup quarterback as the personal protector, tinkering with a role that includes taking direct snaps and either running or throwing from there.

Naturally, that has drawn much attention -- as well as intrigue, speculation and uncertainty on the part of fans, media members and, most importantly, Jets opponents.

That is just how special- teams coordinator Mike Westhoff likes it. He said Tebow is as valuable as a decoy as he is for actual fake punts.

"People have to be aware of it, and that dictates sometimes how you play," Westhoff said. "So you are going to have to choreograph exactly how you want to play it while always keeping that in mind, because it's a viable threat, and that's what we want."

The notion is that at 251 pounds, Tebow can block and tackle as necessary, but that as a running quarterback, he also knows what to do with the ball in his hands.

"I think it's going to be a tremendous asset and tremendous weapon," ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said. "If he runs it or throws it five times for the whole year, that will be a high number, in my opinion. But it will cause every one of those guys on the punt-return team to pause for just a second, and that means your coverage is going to be better."

Tebow never has been asked to play the position before, but he said some aspects of it relate to quarterbacking. "I just look at it as I am a quarterback, and then I sort of have to go be a quarterback on fourth down," he said.

Westhoff said that for someone with no experience, Tebow has done an "excellent" job picking up the necessary tasks.

"I've had guys like that that are quarterback types that have played that role, but they have probably done things a little differently obviously than Tim, who's been a starting quarterback," Westhoff said. "But he's such a football player. He's very versatile."

For now, Westhoff has no other special-teams roles planned for Tebow. He also said the fake punts in the current playbook were there when Brad Smith and Eric Smith filled the role of personal protector.

Tebow completed a pass to Eric Smith out of punt formation in Saturday's Green & White scrimmage -- Tebow's only completion of the evening. Smith, who did the job last year, said Tebow is a natural.

"Tim's an athlete," he said. "Put him in a spot like that, get him on the field, it's going to cause a lot of problems for punt-return teams. He's got the ability to run the ball and he can get down the field and cover, so it's going to cause a lot of problems."

Smith said from what he has seen, Tebow has taken to the role. "He's doing a good job stepping up blocking. He's going down covering well and taking good angles. We'll see when it gets to tackling."

He said Tebow was right on in calling the protector, in essence, the quarterback of the punt-return team.

"It really is," he said. "You have to make all the calls, set the protection . . . It is fun, but there is a lot of responsibility that goes with it.''

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