FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- While a cloud of mystery has shrouded the Jets' plans to use Tim Tebow as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation this season, there's no secret about his performance in the regular offense this preseason. Tebow has completed only 36.1 percent of his passes for no touchdowns and two interceptions, suggesting he's a better scrambler than a pocket passer.
So, it was natural to wonder if Greg McElroy and Matt Simms, who are listed third and fourth on the Jets' quarterback depth chart, actually might be auditioning for the role of backup Thursday night in Philadelphia in the worst-case scenario of an injury to starter Mark Sanchez. Both are conventional passers, and McElroy has completed 61.5 percent of his passes in five preseason appearances over two seasons for 384 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
But Jets coach Rex Ryan shot down that speculation Wednesday, saying, "I think Tebow would expand his role. I think we feel good about what Tim can do. But we'd be confident in McElroy, I think, and then Simms is kind of a wild card. He's a young man that really hasn't been given a whole lot of opportunities, but the opportunities he does get, he's been impressive."
Tebow is the only one of the three Jets backups with regular-season NFL experience, and he won a playoff game with Denver last season. McElroy looked sharp in the preseason last year until suffering a dislocated thumb in the final exhibition game against the Eagles that put him on injured reserve.
In the preseason opener against Cincinnati this year, McElroy completed 4 of 6 passes for 49 yards in a relief stint, and he's looking forward to a rematch with the Eagles, even though their pass rush overran the Jets' offensive line last year.
As Ryan said, "He's a smart guy. If we can protect him a little better than we did last year, maybe we'll get to see him throw the ball a little bit instead of getting smoked."
Looking back on his experience last year, McElroy said, "I was just a rookie. I didn't really always know what I was doing. But I was having fun with my teammates and just trying to compete. This year, I feel I have a much better grasp."
McElroy's arm is stronger thanks to all the work in rehab. But after making an intemperate comment about dissension in the locker room at the end of last season, McElroy, who was 24-3 as a starter at Alabama, sidestepped any notion of supplanting Tebow as the backup to Sanchez.
"We don't speculate," McElroy said. "My goal is to learn everything I possibly can from Mark and Tim. Just try to emulate Mark and Tim. They've definitely showed us how it's supposed to be done."
"I watched the film, so that was enough to explain everything," Simms said. "It's a lot of guys that just haven't been given a whole lot of reps throughout camp.
"Everyone is going to be flying around excited. Not everyone is going to know what they're doing on every play, I guess, but we're going to pretend and make it look like it."