Tim Tebow's Value as Running QB Will Help Expand New England's Offense
The New England Patriots obliged those wishes by signing him to their roster as a QB option behind Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett this offseason, giving him a chance to make the team with a strong training camp.
Will Tebow make New England's roster?
While Tebow continues to work toward possessing the necessary QB skills (pocket awareness, accuracy, using his arm more than his feet) it takes to make it in the NFL, it's become painfully clear that he won't have a chance of accomplishing his goal of being a full-time starter if everything stays status quo in Foxborough.
He will, however, have a chance to expand New England's offense.
Bill Belichick broke his silence about how he envisions Tebow helping the Patriots this season on Monday, speaking to sports radio WEEI as part of his weekly appearance on the show. As noted by ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, Belichick called Tebow a "running QB" on the program and spoke to the personal philosophy he has about getting the most out of a player's skill set.
Per Reiss' report:
The decisions that you make are important there; you don't want to waste a lot of time on something that doesn't benefit you...his is a little bit different, but we're not trying to reinvent the game or anything. We're just trying to take advantage of a particular player's skill, and that's no different than something we would do with a tight end, or a receiver, or running back who has a skill set that we want to try to take advantage of.
We saw some of Belichick's concept as the Patriots made their preseason debut against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
Relieving Mallett after the former Arkansas man suffered a head injury in the second quarter, Tebow would finish 4-of-12 passing with 55 yards and another 31 yards rushing on four carries. His stats were modest, but he did lead the Patriots on a scoring drive to start the second half.
The real story from Tebow's preseason debut, however, was the way New England's offense took a different approach to its attack.
It should be telling about their plan for Tebow this season.
Showcasing a myriad of run-oriented formations and plays, the Patriots followed Belichick's words about taking advantage of specific skills to a tee.
Tebow, who ran read-option plays in college with regularity and did so again during his magical season with the Denver Broncos in 2011, has gotten New England's brain trust to at least consider the possibility that certain packages and play designs will benefit the team against specific opponents this season.
The Patriots have never been shy about throwing the old blueprint away, but this year, they don't have to. With Brady and Mallett serving as the "true" QB options and Tebow stashed away as a long-term project who can still contribute on a weekly basis, the Pats can have their cake and eat it too.
Let's get one thing straight right now: There's a difference between being a "running QB" and being a "short-yardage option." Tebow was the latter in New York last year, serving as a gadget player who only ran Tony Sparano's offense in one-play intervals.
He expressed frustration with that plan late in the Jets' 2012 season. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News had the tweet with some of Tebow's comments last December:
Tebow said that he expressed his frustration at being asked to constantly run up the middle. Wanted chance to play "regular quarterback."— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) December 26, 2012
When you look at the history of what the Patriots do on offense, there's nothing to suggest that Tebow will be limited to coming on the field in 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1-type situations.
ESPN's SportsCenter Twitter account had this eye-popping stat about Brady's success over the past few years when New England only needs a yard for a first down:
Tebow a short-yardage QB? Brady was last stopped on a 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1 rush in 2005, 49 STRAIGHT conversions. (H/T @jasonvida)— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 11, 2013
That being said, it should be clear that Tebow isn't going to take up a roster spot (if he makes the roster out of training camp) to dance onto the field on third downs and be New England's version of Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell.
If Tebow is coming into the game, it's going to be situational in nature. While short-yardage downs fall under the umbrella of that category, "situational" could be a variety of things the coaching staff sees on film and in the course of the game that can be exploited with the right package.
That being said, the Patriots need playmakers.
With Wes Welker gone and the team thin on experience at wide receiver and tight end, it's unclear who will step up to give Brady a chance to be successful. The running game should be strong with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen bringing different skill sets to the backfield, but Tebow is a different kind of weapon opponents have to plan for.
He also has a nose for the end zone, as this tweet from SportsCenter would suggest:
In his first 2 NFL seasons, Tim Tebow had more Rush TD (12) than Tom Brady had in his first 10 SEASONS (10).— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 10, 2013
We can talk about Tebow's shortcomings as a QB all day long. He didn't look comfortable throwing the ball against the Eagles, doing his best work as an improvisational QB who gets outside the pocket to break down the defense.
His career passing percentage (47.9) is appalling.
His career yards-per-carry average (5.0) is not.
Luckily, Belichick's plan does not include Tebow lining up and throwing the ball 40-plus times a game. He won't get that opportunity with Brady and Mallett healthy anyway, but I doubt the Patriots would waste a roster spot on a player who doesn't bring immediate value to the table.
Good teams find a way to get productive players on the field.
What Tebow does at the position may not always look conventional, but then again, the Patriots are the NFL's premier "trendsetter" team. They've won three Super Bowls and been to two more since 2000, challenging the preconceived notion of how to score points and be successful in the process.
I wouldn't blame New England fans—and neither should you—for letting out a big sigh each time the conversation shifts to the former Heisman winner. With a top-flight QB already in place, how much can your third-string guy really bring to the table?
Judging by Belichick's comments and New England's commitment to expanding its playbook when he's in the game, the answer to that question could be greater than we think.
"Running QB" won't—and shouldn't—mean Tebow is limited to diving over the pile for first downs. In true "take what the defense gives you" fashion, all the evidence points to Tebow's role with this team to include special teams, the occasional gadget play and true sets where there's a run-pass option.
History sides with the last decision of that bunch to be geared toward a run.
"I think we're hopefully flexible enough offensively to try to take advantage of whoever we have in the game," Belichick told WEEI. "Tim is certainly a good runner, so when he's in there, we'll probably let him carry the ball a few times."
"He has to refine the timing and so forth, but it creates just another thing to put pressure on the defense."
In three years, who will New England's starting QB be?
Tebow must make the roster for any of this to matter. When and if that final decision comes back in his favor, don't expect Josh McDaniels or anyone to stash Tebow away as an insurance policy for Brady and Mallett.
Long term, Tebow is still working toward being an NFL QB. The Patriots have given him a chance to fulfill that dream. Short term, he's a gifted athlete with experience and poise running an offense more similar to what he did at Florida under Urban Meyer.
Position aside, Tebow will make this roster if he helps the Patriots become more dangerous on offense.
Making opposing defenses focus on him as a runner accomplishes just that.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.
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