Tim Tebow got his third NFL chance with the New England Patriots earlier this offseason, and so far, his performance during training camp has been consistent with what we would expect from a third-string quarterback.
The 25-year-old has made some plays, missed some throws and hasn't done much to suggest he's ready to be considered an unquestioned backup to Tom Brady over Ryan Mallett.
But Tebow isn't your run-of-the-mill third-stringer.
One of the league's most polarizing players since being selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, the former Heisman winner was not guaranteed a salary for the 2013 season when he signed with the Pats.
If he makes the team, that will change.
There are many reasons to consider Tebow a lock to make the Pats' opening-week roster. From leadership, character and sheer intensity, few players in the league have the credentials that Tebow boasts.
The Patriots recognized that and took a chance on the media circus that seemingly follows Tebow everywhere because they know that, as a football player, he brings a lot to the table.
Versatility is one of those things.
Built like a tight end with the speed of a running back, Tebow is a playmaker. He might not be conventional in his approach, but the latter half of his tenure with Denver serves as an example to the idea that smart NFL coaches are throwing "conventional" out of their vocabulary.
Opinions are mixed on whether or not Tebow will ever figure out how to improve the areas of his game (pocket presence, throwing motion, reading defenses better, etc.) that are necessary to start as a quarterback in the NFL.
Opinions should not be mixed, however, about whether or not Tebow can help the Patriots in 2013.
Media personnel who have seen parts of New England's training camp are starting to concur.
Ben Volin of The Boston Globe said that Tebow was a safe bet to make the roster on Aug. 1, eight days before New England's first preseason game of the 2013 season.
Citing the ideas that Tebow is a great locker-room presence and isn't just a "camp arm," Volin asserts that Tebow is guaranteed to make the team even though early evidence suggested that he was anything but.
Volin also mentions Tebow as "useful," serving to the idea that his versatility will help Belichick in more ways than one this year.
For starters, the Patriots are extremely thin in the "proven playmaker" department. Sure, Danny Amendola and Tom Brady are slated to create fireworks this year, and Rob Gronkowski—when healthy—is a force all over the field.
But with Wes Welker's exit and lack of wide receiver experience threatening to derail New England's place as a top offense in 2013, Tebow could be used in various spots to jump-start the attack at any given moment.
Although it would be hard to see the Patriots take Brady out of the game, Tebow is a terrific QB in short-yardage situations; running back might be an option near the goal line.
With Gronkowski's health one of the major talking points of the entire 2013 season, Tebow should also be able to provide depth at tight end in the event that the team feels light at the position.
Special-teams abilities are also important when coaches are picking players for their roster. Tebow's longest pass of the 2012 season came on a trick play as a punt protector with the New York Jets, and as reported by the New York Post, he has been strong in practice in that role with the Pats.
Punter Zoltan Mesko spoke out about Tebow's abilities this week, and Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald was there as well. Mesko also believes that Tebow will help New England in more ways than one:
He’s a very versatile athlete and a pretty good quarterback...I think last practice (Saturday) was the first time I kind of involved more in the situations and was into the game more. He did a great job. I’m not really commenting on other teammates, but he’s definitely bringing something else to the plate.
While in-game contributions will take center stage, being useful in practice will also strengthen Tebow's case to make the final roster.
As you can see in this NESN tweet and report, there aren't many QBs who can prepare defenses the same way that Tebow can for New England's scout team:
More than a few teams are expected to let their QBs loose this year. Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Michael Vick and Jake Locker all have the athleticism and legs to help coaches expand their playbooks.
Tebow's improvisations and ability to get out of the pocket and make plays with his legs were his main allies in Denver. In a scout-team setting, there's little doubt that Tebow affords New England's defense multiple looks at abilities they might not get with Mallett under center.
And as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.
For a QB who played in more games (12) than he completed passes (eight) in 2012, Tebow is sitting pretty with the Patriots.
It's clear that New England is committed to Tebow as a player and as a person. When no one in the NFL seemed keen on giving him another chance to make their roster, the Pats took a flyer on Tebow and tested his true intentions by offering up a non-guaranteed contract.
New England—and the world—will get its first chance to see Tebow in a Pats jersey on Friday. It might be a little early to start handing out roster spots before the preseason even begins, but Tebow is no ordinary player.
Love him or hate him, Tebow can help the Patriots this year, even if we don't know exactly how, where or when quite yet.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.
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