The great Tim Tebow experiment is about to begin, and no one is quite certain how it will all work out. Or even if it will work out.
The Jets traded for the former Broncos' quarterback in hopes Tebow can bring a spark to the offense by keeping opposing defenses off balance. Just how often we'll see him on the field remains to be seen, with his deployment remaining a well-guarded secret from offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.
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No matter what, Tebow will be the most scrutinized No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. And just how well he does might very well determine whether the Jets will rebound from last year's 8-8 disappointment or whether the move will backfire.
The Jets remain convinced this will work, and that this will only help No. 1 QB Mark Sanchez and the offense, not create a divisive situation that will pick away at Sanchez's confidence. "As much as people are trying to make it a quarterback controversy, it's not," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Mark is our starting quarterback, and Tim is an excellent football player."
As much as anything, Ryan believes the mere presence of the Wildcat will put pressure on defensive coaches as they prepare to face the Jets, who open the season Sunday at home against the Bills.
"It takes a lot of your time," Ryan said. "There are some guys who say it'll take up a third of the practice. I know it's on your mind."
Ryan knows from experience; He spent plenty of extra time preparing for the Dolphins' offense that ran the Wildcat when Sparano was the Miami coach.
There is plenty of skepticism around the NFL that the Tebow experiment can work.
Former NFL head coach Brian Billick, a longtime offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach in Baltimore, has his doubts.
"I know we're spreading out the formation more and more in the NFL," the current Fox analyst said, referring to the increasing use of wide-open offenses, "but if you're going to win a championship, you're going to do it from the pocket. No championship has ever been won outside the pocket.
"On paper, yes, you love the changeup that Tebow brings, the added dimension and what defenses have to do to prepare."
But . . .
"But if you have a top-10 quarterback, do you ever take him off the field?" Billick said. "I don't think you do."
Billick also has concerns about how bulked-up Tebow has become. He now weighs 250 pounds, in part because he knows he'll run the ball and wants to be physically more solid to absorb the punishment. Billick believes Tebow might be too big to be an efficient passer.
"At the end of the day, I have concerns about his footwork, his throwing action and his sheer size," he said. "There are three types of athletes who shouldn't lift weights: tennis players, golfers and quarterbacks. If he slims down and increases the fluidity of his throwing motion, I think he'd be better off."
Make Tebow a tight end?
Gil Brandt, former Cowboys director of player personnel, is all too familiar with scrambling quarterbacks; his Cowboys drafted Roger Staubach out of Navy in 1964 and watched him win two Super Bowls. But Brandt, too, is concerned about Tebow's size as it relates to the passing game.
"What I've noticed now is that he doesn't have the quickness he had at Florida," Brandt said. "He [weighed] in the 220s at Florida, and some of the plays he made there he's not making now because he doesn't have that quickness. When you get to the NFL, you better not be bigger and slower, because the other guys are bigger and faster."
But there are times when Brandt sees undeniable proof of Tebow's value. Look no further than his pinpoint pass to Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime in last year's AFC wild-card win over the Steelers. Tebow hit Thomas perfectly in stride, and Thomas turned the catch over the middle into an 80-yard touchdown.
"I don't know if I've ever seen a better throw than that," Brandt said. "It was perfect. It was like you draw it up and expect it to be."
But Brandt has been troubled by Tebow's preseason performance. In his final appearance against the Panthers, Tebow had an interception that left Brandt scratching his head.
"That interception he threw, you have to say, 'What in the heck is the guy doing?' " Brandt said. "From the standpoint of passing, I don't see what I saw in Florida. From the standpoint of running, I don't see what I saw at Florida."
Brandt said he would change Tebow's position. But unlike others, including former NFL running back Merril Hoge, who see Tebow more as a fullback, Brandt said he's better suited to be a tight end. "He's got the size and he can get open," he said. "Get him in open space and let him do his thing."
Defending Jets' decision
While many have expressed doubts about how effective Tebow can be, former NFL general manager Charley Casserly thinks this just might work.
"I can see the logic," he said. "You can't deny the fact that when he's in the form of the Wildcat they used in Denver, he was successful, especially inside the 10. In certain situations on the field, it's a good offensive changeup."
Casserly also believes Tebow will be much more effective at running the Wildcat with the Jets than the Dolphins were under Sparano.
"It's a lot different with Tebow running the Wildcat than with Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams," he said. "Tebow can throw the ball, and that makes a big difference. There's no question, on the blackboard, this works. The Jets can use another runner, and this guy gives them that. So I get it."
What the Jets have to be careful of, however, is how it might affect Sanchez. Not so much psychologically, but in terms of the pace of the game. "The downside is the momentum of the quarterback," he said. "You don't want to interrupt that, and they'll have to be careful."
Will it work? Will it flop?
The answers will begin to unfold Sunday.
THE PROS AND CONS OF TIM TEBOW
1. Because most teams don’t run the Wildcat, opposing defenses need to spend added time preparing for the different scenarios.
2. When the field gets packed in tighter inside the opponent’s 20, he is an effective weapon as a runner or a passer, creating uncertainty for the defense.
3. Most quarterbacks are removed from a play once they hand the ball off. But because Tebow has the option of running or throwing, he can stay involved in an entire play as an extra blocker, adding another layer of coverage for the defense.
1. The Jets insist Mark Sanchez is the starter, but if he struggles and his confidence erodes, Tebow’s presence might create a drag on Sanchez’s psyche.
2. Tebow was not an accurate passer in Denver, and he struggled in the preseason to complete passes. If he’s asked to throw downfield consistently, he figures to struggle.
3. At 6-3, 250 pounds, many consider Tebow too bulky to be an effective quarterback. This is the heaviest he has ever played, leading to questions about whether it might adversely affect his speed.