Amid the media phenomenon that is Tebow-mania, the Jets think they’ve got themselves a heck of a football player who they expect to make their team better.
The 24-year-old Tebow is a talented, but flawed player. Every football fan knows he’s among the most polarizing players in the NFL.
Before the trade went down, I was skeptical to say the least. I’m still not convinced that the move is a good idea in the grand scheme of things. But I understand where the Jets are coming from.
Mark Sanchez is the Jets’ starting quarterback. For the past two years, their backup quarterback, Mark Brunell has been closer to an assistant quarterback coach than a legitimate second-string quarterback.
One of the criticisms of Sanchez, and I’m well aware that there are many, is that the 25-year-old incumbent starter has never truly had another quarterback breathing down his neck, legitimately capable of doing his job.
In 2009, Sanchez was backed up by Kellen Clemens, who started one game when Sanchez sat with an injured knee. Otherwise, Sanchez has started and played nearly every snap of every game over the past three years.
However, the Wildcat package that Tebow is expected to run is not new to the Jets. They got to the back-to-back AFC Championship games with Brad Smith playing a combined total of 564 snaps in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
On a lot of those plays, Sanchez did not necessarily come off the field. Sometimes Smith played wide receiver, and even when Smith was taking snaps out of the Wildcat, Sanchez didn’t necessarily always come off the field.
In fact, on a lot of plays in the Wildcat, the quarterback stays on the field, lined up as a wide receiver. Usually he’s a decoy, but other times he can be part of a trick play if they can catch the defense sleeping.
Miami took the NFL by storm in 2008, winning 11 games and the AFC East title with starting quarterback Chad Pennington and heavy doses of the Wildcat formation, led by left-handed throwing running back Ronnie Brown.
Tebow, a left-hander himself, can run the ball as well as your typical halfback, and although he’s maligned for his poor throwing, he still throws better than Brown and any other player running Wildcat snaps.
From 2009 to 2011, the Jets averaged an NFL-best 6.1 yards per carry out of Wildcat formations, although they dipped from 6.5 ypc with Brad Smith in 2009 and 2010, down to a still respectable 4.5 ypc in 2011 without Smith.
Sure, there’s an inherent risk that you could be messing with Sanchez’s rhythm, but he’s dealt with the Wildcat before. It’s up to Sparano to properly manage the base offense and the Wildcat packages. That’s why he’s here.
Tebow does not believe the notion that the Wildcat is dead and that it can’t be effective anymore. It’s an offensive wrinkle that Rex Ryan has said many times he thinks is difficult for defenses to defend against.
“People think the Wildcat is just a direct snap to the running back,” Tebow said at his introductory press conference on Monday. “I think that’s a big mistake.”
“When you have the opportunity for 5-6 people to touch the football on every play, that can be confusing [for defenses].”
Sanchez is the starting quarterback, and Tebow understands that. He will let his play determine how much playing time he deserves, at quarterback or elsewhere.
It’s natural for Tim Tebow to want to expand his role to be more than just a Wildcat specialist and jack-of-all-trades hybrid back. You want to have guys who are competitive like that.
“However I can help the team … I will be open to it,” Tebow said.
Whether that’s as a passer, a runner, a receiver or even a special teamer, Tebow’s all-purpose ability will be like Brad Smith 2.0 for the Jets, or so they hope.
Sanchez is not concerned about losing his job or any potential quarterback controversy that will inevitably be speculated about when you have two young, competitive players at any position.
“We’re adding another player and were not replacing anybody,” Sanchez said. “He’s here to help us and I’m confident [in] my abilities.”
Yes, I hate to spoil the fun, but contrary to many people’s assumptions, Sanchez and Tebow don’t hate each other. They’ve been friends for a few years now. There’s no animosity between them.
Will there be competition between them? Of course. They are two competitive guys who both want to get as many snaps as possible. I’d rather have that than the reanimated corpse of Mark Brunell holding a clipboard.
“I don’t get into the negative hypotheticals like that, I don’t think he’s a distraction,” Sanchez said. “I’m just focused on playing well and improving this offseason – taking care of the football and making good decisions with the ball.”
As far as the legions of fans who will be chanting Tebow’s name at every opportunity?
“Those things happen whether its Tebow or not,” said Sanchez. “They call for the backup anytime you’re not playing to your potential.”
Sanchez is not threatened by Tebow or the Wildcat, although he’s admitted in the past that he prefers the base formation, taking snaps and not watching from the sideline or lined up at receiver in the Wildcat.
“The way I feel about the Wildcat is secondary,” Sanchez said. “Our team goal, the most important thing is winning.”
Still though, even if he says he’s not threatened by Tebow, I expect that the two will push each other to get better like good teammates should. I expect Sanchez to play his best football yet in 2012.
The Jets may be taking a big risk, relying on not one, but two inconsistent young quarterbacks. But the X’s and O’s can work if properly drawn up and executed.
Is it a little crazy? Perhaps. But it might be just crazy enough to work.
It’s not inconceivable that the Jets offense can keep opposing defenses off-balance with just the right amount of Wildcat snaps supplementing the base offense.
With so many teams going to a pass-first offense, teams are adjusting with primarily pass-defending defenses.
Perhaps being innovative and bucking the trend by going old-school with a ground-and-pound offense is the remedy.
Tebow, for all his faults as a passer, can run the football with the best of them. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Jets use Sanchez and Tebow together in some formations, just to give the defense something to think about.
This league is always about being innovative and finding ways to get ahead. The bottom line is winning. If the Jets win games, all of the chaos coming from the outside won’t matter.
The New England Patriots have done it with their devastating two-tight end offense. Maybe a two-quarterback offense is the next innovative offensive scheme that gets a team ahead of the curve.
Now, I’m not saying it’s going to work. I’m not terribly optimistic that it will work. But I think I understand what the Jets’ line of thinking is. It’s a big risk, but it’s also ambitious.
There’s a very real possibility that this grand experiment can blow up in their faces. Plenty of people will be on the hot seat if it does.
But we won’t know until they get out on the field and play.
Nothing really matters until that happens. None of the analysis or talking points matter. What happens on the field, and on the scoreboard, will be what ultimately determines if this experiment pays off.
“There’s going to be more media buzz and attention on us … but I’m just focused on what’s going on inside our building,” Sanchez said.
The Jets are banking on the best-case scenario, that the two quarterbacks feed off each other and elevate each other’s play.
Maybe it’ll give the Jets the boost they need on offense to finally get over the hump. Of course, there’s only one way to find out.