So Tim Tebow is landing in the perfect spot by signing with the New England Patriots, right? Finally, Tebow has signed with a coach, Bill Belichick, who isn’t afraid to experiment with players or schemes and can take full advantage of Tebow’s unorthodox quarterbacking style.
No doubt, Belichick will spend countless hours this summer locked away in his football cave, figuring out what the Jets and Broncos never could — how to utilize Tebow at tight end, and fullback, and on special teams, and on trick plays inside the red zone.
Not if the Patriots are smart — and they usually are.
Sure, the Patriots will want everyone to believe that they have concocted all kinds of crazy ways to utilize Tebow this fall. When reports eventually emerge that the Patriots are using Tebow in “X” many ways in practice, the team won’t try to clear up any confusion.
But realistically, signing Tebow was all about reuniting him with one of the few coaches who has always believed in him — Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — getting him out of the spotlight, and seeing if he can develop into a No. 2 quarterback.
And if there’s one team that can evaluate Tebow and simultaneously squash the media circus, it’s the Patriots.
“This guy needs three things: He needs to sit, he needs to learn, and he needs to develop, and the Patriots can help him accomplish those things,” said NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout with several NFL teams and an ex-college quarterback. “Take this year, stay out of the limelight, work hard, learn what you can from [Tom] Brady, don’t worry about being put on the football field, and then let the storm die down a little bit.
“You’ve got a year to just let these guys work with him. I think that will be more productive than trying to develop a package of plays for him.”
In theory, Tebow is athletic enough to be a “slash” type of player like Kordell Stewart or Jim “Crash” Jensen. He’s big enough to play tight end (6 feet 3 inches, 236 pounds), smashes into defenders hard enough to play fullback, and throws well enough to be a trick-play asset on special teams.
Obviously, Brady is never coming off the field, even for a snap. But Belichick, if anyone, can find a way to use Tebow — just ask Troy Brown or Mike Vrabel.
“There aren’t many players who can run and throw. Tebow, obviously, is a special one,” Belichick told Sports Illustrated in 2009. “It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens when he comes into this league. Do you just run your regular offense and let him scramble when he scrambles? Do you put in a few plays just for him? Or do you really build an entire new offense around him?”
The Jets tried that last year — sort of. They did put him on the field for 59 special teams snaps, and used him on three fake punts, two of which he converted for first downs. And when he did get on the field on offense — for all of 73 snaps — they used him at tight end, fullback, and H-back, in addition to a handful of snaps at quarterback.
“My sense of Tim Tebow is that if you asked him to play nose [tackle], he’d play nose,” Belichick said in 2010. “I think he’s the kind of kid where whatever you ask him to do, he’ll do.”
But there was one problem with that approach — Tebow is an NFL quarterback, not an NFL tight end or fullback or special teams player.
He never played those positions until last year. He’s not a natural route-runner or blocker, and it showed. In one game against the Dolphins last year, he didn’t turn quickly enough for a swing pass, and the ball doinked off his helmet. The Dolphins also specifically schemed to attack him in special teams, and blocked a punt for a touchdown.
Even with Rob Gronkowski uncertain to be healthy to start the season, the Patriots have better options than Tebow at tight end. And they have better options at fullback and on special teams, too. Tebow needs to lineup behind center and have the ball in his hands.
“You can say, ‘We want him to play tight end.’ I don’t’ know if he can catch the ball good enough,” said former Jets and Chiefs coach Herm Edwards, now with ESPN. “They want him to play fullback. Has he played fullback before? This is not high school or college. You have to be trained to do that.”
This move is not about 2013 — it’s about reuniting Tebow with McDaniels, who traded up to draft Tebow 25th overall in 2010, and seeing if they can reignite the Tebow spark. The two didn’t have a full season together in Denver (McDaniels was fired 12 games into the season), but they spent a lot of time working on Tebow’s throwing mechanics and play recognition that summer.
Details of the contract haven’t been released, but it’s likely just a one- or two-year deal with little guaranteed money.
Tebow will almost certainly be the unquestioned No. 3 quarterback behind Brady and Ryan Mallett, and the days of hearing his voice on “SportsCenter” are probably over.
If Tebow works out, the Patriots can consider trading Mallett before the 2014 season.
If not, then you cut bait and move on, no harm, no foul.
“Just redshirt him, sit him out a year,” Jeremiah said. “Let this guy work and develop in darkness. He hasn’t had a chance to just do that.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.