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BOSTON (CBS) — By now, you know that Tim Tebow is the newest member of the New England Patriots. What nobody does or can know is what Tebow in New England actually means.
Much of that has to do with two facts. For one, the Patriots have a quarterback, and his name is Tom Brady. And he is very good.
For two, none of us really know what exactly Tebow is anymore. He was not long ago a quarterback, albeit a unique quarterback. But upon his departure from Denver and arrival in New York, the identity of Tebow the football player has become confused.
Given his size (6-foot-3, 236 pounds) and versatility, the options for Bill Belichick are seemingly plentiful. However, the Jets’ failure to use Tebow as a multi-threat player, in contrast with the relative success Tebow had as a quarterback in Denver, would seemingly make that route a bad choice for the Patriots.
There are many possibilities for Tebow and the effects of his arrival in New England. Let’s run through them.
Tim Tebow As Backup Quarterback
Realistically, this makes the most sense. I, for one, bought into the idea that had Tebow been available late in the 2010 draft, Belichick would have used a fifth- or sixth-round pick to draft him. Obviously, he would not have done so in order to create a quarterback competition, but rather to bring an accomplished college player into the league and help incorporate his talents into the pro game.
Of course, Belichick did not get that chance, because Josh McDaniels surprised everyone by using a first-round pick to draft Tebow. Despite the impressive run Tebow had as the Broncos’ starter in 2011, his overall body of work can be described as mediocre at best. He completed 167 of his 353 passes (47.3 percent), averaging just 6.75 yards per pass attempt, while throwing 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 23 games (14 starts) over two years.
He was a unique rushing threat for Denver, picking up 887 yards on 165 attempts (5.38 YPC), but he was also sacked 39 times for a loss of 251 yards, and he fumbled a league-high 14 times in 2011.
So yes, Tebow’s pass to Demaryius Thomas in overtime to beat the Steelers in the divisional round was no doubt the quarterback’s shining moment, he’s hardly ready to be a quarterback in this league. He couldn’t even beat out Mark Sanchez (54.3 percent, 13 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, one butt fumble) for the Jets’ job. Perhaps now, with the ridiculous media frenzy of New York in the rear view, serving as a third-string quarterback with no pressure to develop at any sort of rapid pace is where Tebow needs to be. Think of it as a career reset.
Tim Tebow As Fullback/Tight End
With Rob Gronkowski perhaps out for training camp and/or the start of the season, the idea of Tebow as a multifaceted offensive weapon immediately gained some steam. CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman said on Twitter that Tebow would be studying the tight end position, and Tebow’s success as a rusher seemingly made the idea of him lining up behind Brady a viable option.
It all may sound OK, but it’s not, really. The Jets tried to make Tebow that type of player, and it just did not work. In the NFL, where every position is filled by athletes at the very top of their craft, it’s hard to survive as a player who is OK at a few positions rather than outstanding at one.
And when you think of Tebow as a receiver, the only memory that comes to mind is the Mark Sanchez pass he took right off the head last year (it’s funny to watch). He has zero career receptions, so it’s flat-out wrong to expect him to be able to become a pass catcher in the NFL.
There’s also the idea of the Patriots using Tebow as a running back in short yardage situations, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more successful operator of the quarterback sneak than Brady. Whether his center is Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly or Dan Rather, Brady picks up that yard (and usually three or four more) when he needs it. ESPN Stats & Info reported Tuesday morning that Brady is a perfect 44-for-44 on third- or fourth-and-1 conversion attempts, going back to 2005. The one time it was stopped did not even count, thanks to then-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan calling a timeout (even though he wasn’t allowed to) just before the snap in Baltimore in 2007. While the Patriots may want to limit the number of pigpiles the soon-to-be-36-year-old Brady finds himself underneath, the team doesn’t need Tebow to come in to pick up two yards at a time. They have Brady and also some real running backs for that.
I’ve also seen the theory floated that Tebow will serve as a “Danny Woodhead replacement.” That, really, is an insult Danny Woodhead. The undersized running back showed explosive bursts of speed and an uncanny ability to weave his way between blockers for big gains. He was also a very skilled receiver, unafraid to run routes right through the center of the field, and his 11.2-yard-per-reception last year is indicative of that. Tebow may be a lot of things, but he is not nearly fast enough nor skilled enough to replace Woodhead.
If there is one reason to believe this is still a viable option for the Patriots, it’s Josh McDaniels. The offensive coordinator loves to mix trick plays into his offense, even if they generally stall out a drive more often than they create the rare memorable touchdown. Even still, if McDaniels gets trick play-happy, it might come out to three or four plays over the course of a season that involve Tebow. That’s hardly worth getting excited or angry about.
Tim Tebow As A Special Teamer
The Jets’ using Tebow as the personal protector on the punt team was among the stupidest moves a football team has ever made. The Patriots are not the Jets. Tebow will not be a personal protector.
Maybe the Patriots will employ Tebow on the PAT unit, because that’s probably off Rob Gronkowski’s responsibility list going forward. Other than that, Tebow is not a special teams player.
Tim Tebow As The Religious Fanatic
Of course, there’s been no lightning rod in sports quite like Tebow. Being so outspoken about religion and faith is sure to draw a reaction in America (just do a Google news search for “religion” and scan through any comments section), but the reality is that at least half of the league shares the same beliefs as Tebow. You’ll notice that Tebow is not by himself during the postgame prayer circles at midfield after games.
Still, given how open Tebow is about his faith and beliefs, many fans have taken a dislike to him, asking him not-so-politely to keep his religion out of their faces.
That’s not something that’s ever going to stop. Americans have opinions, and with the internet, sports radio and countless outlets for thought columns, the opinions are only going to multiply.
I don’t pretend to know Tebow, nor should anyone, really. But he did something two years ago that stood out to me. When he was in New England, quarterbacking the Broncos in the playoffs in the most important NFL game of his career, he hosted Zack McLeod — a local high school football player who suffered a traumatic brain injury — and his family as special guests to the game. I watched him run over to the family on the sideline before the game and give high fives to each and every one of them, spending much more time with the group than most athletes do.
The Patriots then put a stomping on Tebow and the Broncos in a 45-10 blowout, ending the miraculous run of Tebow and the Broncos. After Tebow fulfilled his postgame obligation of speaking to the media, while his teammates were filing onto their bus to head out of town, Tebow walked over to the McLeod family group in the darkened tunnels of Gillette Stadium to spend more time with them, pose for pictures and give them a memory. No television cameras were around, and no reporters were covering the moment — this was just Tebow doing what he felt was the right thing, even after a crushing professional loss.
“Overall, it still wasn’t a bad day,” Tebow said during his press conference. “It was a good day because before the game I got to spend time with Zack McLeod and make him smile, and overall when you get to do that, it’s still a positive day and it’s still a good day. Sometimes it’s just hard to see, but it depends what lens you’re looking through. I chose to look through those lenses and got to make a kid’s day. Anytime you do that, it’s more important than winning the game. So, I’m proud of that. “
Whether Tebow did what he did because he was religious or just good-hearted doesn’t really matter to me. The fact that he did the right thing when nobody was looking means a lot more. Ultimately, I think Tebow being a genuinely decent person can outweigh the chaos that comes every time he says the words “Jesus Christ.”
Tim Tebow As A One-Man Circus
There is certainly the potential for Tebow to create somewhat of a distraction in the Patriots’ locker room, but really, it’s unlikely. For starters, this isn’t New York, and specifically, these aren’t the Jets. They’re the Patriots. They have a locker room where literally months go by without an interesting word being spoken by a player. The Patriots simply won’t allow the nonsense to build the way the Jets did, and if he is a third-string quarterback, it’s unlikely he’ll ever even be talking to the media.
What is more likely is that Tebow will be a hard worker on the practice field and in the weight room. He’ll try to fit in with his teammates and be useful on the scout team when he is asked. He’ll learn under the best head coach and quarterback possible, all while having an offensive coordinator who is personally invested in Tebow developing into a successful player.
In New York, Tebow was a one-man circus. In New England, if he makes the roster, he’ll be one of 53.