Which Position Ultimately Gives Tim Tebow Best Chance to Revive His NFL Career?

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Which Position Ultimately Gives Tim Tebow Best Chance to Revive His NFL Career?

I woke up, and Tim Tebow was still a New England Patriot.

Yes, that means we weren't dreaming when the Patriots announced the move on Monday.

Now, what crazy plan will head coach Bill Belichick dream up that can help Tebow revive his career?

There are only so many possibilities, and not all of them make sense. Tebow's versatility may be overstated at this point—he did a number of different things for the Jets in 2012, but didn't do many of them well. 

 

Quarterback

Let's start with the obvious. This is the only position Tebow has ever played on a full-time basis. 

The problem with Tebow as a quarterback in New England is that the offense is already geared heavily toward Tebow's weaknesses. The Patriots' offense revolves around smart route-runners and a smart quarterback reading the defense through the same set of eyes. 

An example of a play in the Erhardt-Perkins offense.
A lot of what he did in Denver was based on getting his first read open and letting him run if the first read was not open. Things won't be that easy in New England, where the Patriots run a read-heavy offense. Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports gives a good explanation of what makes the Patriots' offense difficult for a quarterback:

Not only does the quarterback have to read the defense; he also has to know that his receivers are reading the defense the same way he is ... and that they're adjusting accordingly. [...] When Chad Ochocinco was traded to the Patriots, he came from a system that didn't have a lot of receiver adaptations, and wasn't able to benefit from a full preseason, his fate was probably sealed before he even started with an offense this regimented, complex and precise. 

The Patriots are no strangers to evolving their offense, but usually, they become more complicated and more versatile, not less complicated and easier to defend.

It wouldn't be surprising if Tebow is a quarterback—Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels drafted him as such in the first round—though he'll be competing with incumbent backup Ryan Mallett for the spot directly under Brady on the totem pole. Mallett is entering the third year of a four-year deal, and this gives the Patriots an opportunity to take an honest look at both quarterbacks and decide at the end of the season which one is the better fit going forward.

After all, they'll need to settle on their quarterback of the future sooner than later.

If the offense is constructed anything like it has been for the past decade-plus, and like it is constructed right now, Tebow is probably not the guy to lead the Patriots into the next generation. The possibility, however, is worth it for the Patriots.

Oh, and as for any notion that he could take Brady's spot in red-zone and short-yardage situations, put that to rest right now. Not only have the Patriots been one of the best third-down teams in the league for years, but Brady has more red-zone touchdowns than any other quarterback over the past three years.

 

Special Teams

This is the only other area where Tebow has any real experience.

While his performance on special teams wasn't an abject failure—he ran three fake punts, converting two for first downs—it certainly wasn't a resounding success.

Former Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff was quite candid in his displeasure with how the whole situation went down. Via the New York Daily News:

"[The handling of Tebow] was an absolute mess. You can say it however else you want it: It was really a mess. I was very, very disappointed." [...] Westhoff said the original plan was to use Tebow on special teams "[one percent]" of the time, but injuries to key special teamers such as Eric Smith prompted the coach to play Tebow more often. 

When you turn on the tape, it's not hard to see why Westhoff was so hesitant about making Tebow a full-time special teamer.

In fact, the Miami Dolphins specifically targeted Tebow on special teams in their second meeting, and they ended up returning a blocked punt for a touchdown which swung momentum permanently in favor of the Dolphins.

Tebow (circled in yellow) thought Dolphins cornerback Jimmy Wilson (circled in red) was going to rush to Tebow's left, but Wilson ended up rushing to the right instead. 

There was at least one other missed block on this play, but it's hard not to notice Tebow right in the middle of the scrum, watching helplessly as Dolphins defenders whizz right by him.

The Patriots have had just one punt blocked in the past three seasons combined. Unless Tebow has improved greatly since we last saw him on special teams, why mess with success?

 

Tight End

Bill Belichick is largely credited as the innovator behind this generation's version of the two-tight end set. 

His infatuation with the tight-end position is well-documented, but it's not as if he's going to start building tight ends from mutilated dog parts. It's a difficult position to play in the Patriots' offense, and not just anyone is cut out to do it.

"Well I just think a tight end is involved in a lot of plays," Belichick said, via Boston Metro. "He's involved in the running game, he's involved in the passing game, he's in the middle of the field, he's involved in pass protection. There really aren't hardly any plays where that guy is out of the play. He's the central guy in pretty much whatever you want to do. And the more versatile he is, the more things he can do, defensively the harder it is to defend."

OK, so what can Tebow do at tight end?

Well, right now, nothing.

His most noteworthy attempt at running a route resulted in a pass that clocked him square in the head. 

As for blocking, any notion to that end is based on speculation. Blocking is not a skill that is learned overnight. He got a little experience in blocking technique as the personal punt protector, but the fact that the Dolphins targeted him specifically in that role should be a big red flag as to his ability to block. 

The technique for blocking at tight end is fundamentally different from the up-back on special teams, as are the assignments. 

 

Running Back/Fullback

A lot of what was said in the tight-ends section applies to Tebow in the backfield. In fact, he might be able to apply some of the techniques (though certainly not the assignments) he learned while blocking on special teams.

After the 2012 season, the Jets admitted (via USA Today) that they had "visions of lining up Tebow at running back in traditional sets" when they first traded for him from the Broncos. He practiced the position sparingly with the Jets during the offseason, but their vision never came to fruition.

He has natural feel for the running game, he hits holes hard and he's a big, durable player, as evidenced by his 692 collegiate carries and 197 professional carries.

The question, however, is whether he has the versatility to contribute, and whether he can learn the new position quickly enough to earn snaps and prove he can be effective. He's up to his eyeballs in a competition with young, talented backs in Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount. 

There might be some value if Tebow can learn to catch the ball; then, we might see him run some routes in the flat where the Patriots get him out into space and let him put his running abilities to work. That might even open up the possibility of some trick plays, with a swing pass to Tebow who then launches it deep. We've seen similar plays from the Patriots before, although they usually ended with Brady throwing the pass.

As with any other position Tebow could play, it will all depend on his ability to learn every single responsibility that will be expected of him, and given the Patriots' lust for versatility, there will always be more than one responsibility no matter what position he plays.

 

Conclusion

Which position is the best bet for Tebow to make the Patriots roster?

Submit Vote vote to see results
Tebow will be in a stiff competition regardless of the position at which the Patriots line him up. For some reason, there's this idea that Tebow can play an array of positions. That may well be the case, but we've yet to see any empirical evidence that he can play anything but quarterback.

Thus, that's his best bet to make the roster.

There are only so many snaps to go around, and with so many possibilities, Tebow could be fairly spread out in camp. He won't have much of an opportunity to validate himself at each individual spot, so he has to perform his best at quarterback to prove there is at least some value in keeping him on the roster beyond the novelty factor.

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from the Sports Reference network, and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.

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