Asked on Tuesday if third-string quarterback Tim Tebow will make the Patriots’ 53-man roster, head coach Bill Belichick said, “That’s not anything that we’re ready to talk about right now. A lot of competition out there. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Belichick doesn’t have to talk about it because the question has already been answered. He tipped his hand the moment Tebow entered last Friday’s 31-22 preseason win over the Eagles for an injured Ryan Mallett late in the second quarter.
As bad as Tebow was in the victory – and he was, converting on 4-of-12 passes for 55 yards (a total diminished by three sacks) to go along with another 31 yards on four carries – he all but officially has a spot on the New England roster when the team breaks camp in a few weeks.
The reason? Belichick’s unveiling of an alternate offense.
Once Tebow took over for his two-plus quarters of action, the offensive formation changed at times to the Pistol, the NFL’s latest fad for mobile quarterbacks. Passing was no longer the top priority, as it would be with Tom Brady or Mallett under center. Instead, it was the read-option. Runs. Pitches. Short passes. None of the drop-back, downfield target practice.
More to the point, it displayed an expansion of the playbook, a willingness to break from the Patriots’ norm. The coaching staff says it was simply utilizing a player’s skill-set, just as it would with anyone else.
But, here’s the thing: it’s not necessarily simple. These are systems associated with the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson, among others, not the 36-year-old, gun-slinging Brady. It’s a second offense that caters to the unconventional Tebow and simultaneously gives his teammates more work. Even if the separate scheme is only made up of 15 to 20 plays, the rest of the offense has to spend valuable practice time learning and adjusting. You don’t install such tactics or devote that kind of time and energy to a run-of-the-mill camp body who is a question to make the roster.
All of this for a guy who isn’t a good decision-maker, often looks like he’s panicking, doesn’t read defenses well, struggles with accuracy, holds onto the ball too long, and wouldn’t have a job in the league if not for Belichick and Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the man who drafted him in Denver. But, damn it, he’s a nice guy!
That last jab was unnecessary. In truth, I have nothing against Tebow. Really, my problem is with the media (yes, guilty) and its desire to constantly dissect the day-by-day performance of a Heisman Trophy winning college quarterback who, in all likelihood, will never be an above-average QB in the NFL. None of that is his fault. He’s a hard-worker who says and does all of the right things and, frankly, there isn’t a team in the game that couldn’t use more guys just like him – except with more talent.
Tebow, if he has any hope of becoming a more traditional quarterback, is a project, a long, long-term project. The Patriots are clearly invested in at least one season of seeing what may be there to mold.
Belichick knows that, like Liam Neeson in Taken, Tebow has a very particular set of skills, skills that can make him a nightmare for opposing defenses. He can run and take a hit, and his stretch of good fortune with the Broncos in 2011 proves he can complete a pass or two when it counts. However, he’ll never, ever – ever! – take a snap away from Brady. It just won’t happen. For Tebow to take the field at all, he’d either be alongside the future Hall of Famer in some type of Wildcat or goal-line strategy, or Brady would be on his way to the hospital.
Now, maybe, his value will be no greater than working with the scout team as an option QB who can help arm the Pats’ defense for its upcoming opponents. That could conceivably be helpful in prepping for the Dolphins, Jets, Bills, or Panthers, depending on how those teams shape their offenses. Tebow isn’t necessarily as fast as some of the guys the Patriots would face, but he has better wheels than the other two in-house options. Imagine that, Tebow does something better than Brady.
Tebow acknowledged after last Friday’s win that he has some room for improvement. That’s an understatement, and coaches Brian Daboll and Dante Scarnecchia have their work cut out for them.
Ultimately, though, the fourth-year pro will have that time to grow because he’s not going anywhere. Truth be told, there are people out there who expect him to bypass Mallett for the backup job by the Sept. 8 season-opener in Buffalo. I’m not there yet, but I don’t find the notion nearly as crazy as I did in minicamp.
Let’s just hope nothing happens to Brady. Foxboro isn’t ready for the Tebowmania era, and Tebow most definitely isn’t ready for the pressures in Foxboro.
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Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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