Tim Tebow—the Jets backup quarterback, Wildcat running back, punt protector and slot receiver—has received a lot of attention so far this year. Most of it has been either wildly positive or scathingly negative.
I am here to offer a position somewhere in the middle. Here are the three biggest takeaways from Tebow's performance so far this season:
- Tebow has had a positive impact on the team.
- Tebow is adjusting to his role.
- Tebow's role will not change significantly for the rest of this year.
To give some perspective to the season Tebow has been having, I will begin by reminding my readers about the last Tebow-esque quarterback to play in New York—Brad Smith.
Tim Tebow as the New Brad Smith
Mike Westhoff—the special teams coach for the Jets—was on point as he usually is when describing the Tebow trade. Shortly after the trade, he called Tebow a "more potent Brad Smith."
The Brad Smith role is the type of quietly effective role in which Tebow can excel. The media storm surrounding him makes it hard to imagine and understand that role, but from a football standpoint it is where he belongs.
To understand the Tebow situation—especially if you have not followed the Jets closely—you need to understand how Smith functioned during his years on the Jets.
Listed as a kick returner, quarterback, running back and wide receiver in the NFL, Smith is a man who should be discussed in every conversation about Tebow. He is the most similar player there has been to Tebow in recent NFL history. It is not at all a a coincidence that he was also a Jet. This was the vision Rex Ryan, Mike Westhoff and Tony Sparano had when they helped acquire him.
Smith was a very productive college quarterback who started for four years at Missouri. He was the first quarterback to ever throw for 8,000 yards while also running for 4,000 yards.
Heading into the draft, however, he was never viewed as an NFL-quality quarterback. He fell to the Jets in the fourth round of the draft. In his five years with in New York, he threw only seven passes, completing four of them along with one touchdown.
Nevertheless, over those five years Smith missed only four games. He was used as a wide receiver, a running back and especially on special teams under Westhoff. He took snaps at a pseudo-quarterback position, running the Seminole offense—a variant of the Wildcat—which was more successful than the contemporary versions of the Wildcat in the NFL.
Not well known nationally, Smith was a local hero in New York and indisputably had a hand in more than one Jets victory.
Versatility has a lot of value in the NFL. Since the Tebow trade happened, there has been a large contingent of Jets fans hoping that the Jets had acquired their next Brad Smith. Westhoff and the rest of the Jets coaching staff fit into that category.
Tebow's Role on Special Teams
Both Tebow's performance and the usage of Tebow by the Jets have received criticism of all variants this season. However, the one place where nobody can criticize is on special teams. I like to joke that Tebow is the best punt protector in NFL history, but it's hardly even a joke anymore.
The Jets are perfect on fourth downs this year—four for four—and Tebow's most successful offensive play came on a fake punt pass to Nick Bellore. The recognition that Tebow can be used for fake punts came from the way he was used in Denver in 2011.
All of Tebow's most successful plays in 2011 came with at least eight defenders in the box, assuming that he would not throw the ball. That assumption is a trap that results in incredibly open wide receivers, who Tebow can hit without having to read a defense or move around the pocket.
The punt is the same philosophy taken to a more extreme level. With the assumption that a punt will occur, nobody covers receivers.
Similarly, Tebow is becoming Brad Smith taken one level more extreme. Tebow does not throw as accurately as Smith, but he is a stronger and more physical runner. He can draw safeties into the box with his Wildcat even more so than Smith did with his Seminole.
Tebow's Role as a Wildcat Back
Tebow's role in the Wildcat has not been electric or mind-blowing. However, the expectations should never have been that high in the first place.
The Wildcat is a simple formation that leads to dependable short gains. That is exactly what Tebow has provided. So far this year, he has rushed 22 times for 76 yards.
One place a lot of Jets fans would like to see Tebow get used more is in short-yardage situations. A Tebow run on 3rd-and-1 is almost a guarantee. At the same time, running back Shonn Greene is perfect this year on 3rd-and-1 situations, so either man can get the job done.
On the whole, what Tebow has done in the Wildcat what should have been anticipated. He has been good but not great. One option that is still available is the surprise long pass. The Jets have not yet made use of that play. It can only be used a few times in a season before defenses will begin to expect it.
Nevertheless, I would be surprised if Tebow made it through the season without completing at least one surprise pass out of the Wildcat or spread option formations.
Tebow's Role as a Receiver
Tebow has been used to a small degree as a tight end and a slot receiver. Obviously he has not yet learned those jobs. They are very different from what he did in college.
Given his size, Tebow does make sense as a potential NFL tight end. However, none of that has come to fruition yet. So far his usage as a receiver has been poor and discouraging.
Given more time to learn the position, there is some potential for him to become a viable tight end. With his size, he would be hard for a defensive back to tackle.
Overall Tebow has to grade out positively so far this year for any unbiased observer. Ignoring the hype, Tebow is a relatively low-paid, backup quarterback who has done more for the Jets than most backup quarterbacks do for their teams.
Between picking up first downs in the running game and converting fourth downs with the punt unit, Tebow's impact on the team has clearly been more positive than negative.
While he is not going to suddenly turn into Joe Montana and become a star quarterback, it is indisputable that his role as a backup affects games. Half way through the 2012 season, it is safe to say that the Tim Tebow trade has worked out well for the Jets.
Fans of the Jets should hope to see more benefits in the second half of the season, with Tebow's versatility ideally increasing rather than decreasing.