The New England Patriots made headlines this season when they signed free-agent quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow, who started for the Denver Broncos during much of the 2011 season, is one of the most polarizing players in the league. Part of this polarization is the debate over what exactly he contributes to a team.
After two preseason games, the general public had its first opportunity to see Tebow play within New England's offense.
What can we conclude from the first two preseason games, if anything?
Will Tebow make the final 53-man roster of the New England Patriots, or will he find himself without a job once again?
Through two preseason games, his passing statistics are as follows: 5-of-19 passing, 54 yards, 2.8 yards per attempt, zero passing touchdowns, one interception and 17.7 passer rating.
He has been horrific as a passer so far. His 17.7 passer rating is only better than Mike Kafka and Blaine Gabbert. In fairness to Tebow, his rushing stats have been solid for a quarterback: 10 rushes, 61 yards and 6.1 yards per attempt...but no touchdowns.
Because of Tom Brady, we already know that Tebow is not going to win the starting job in New England anytime soon. After a solid performance in the second week of the preseason, Ryan Mallett's job appears to be safe as well.
Is Tebow going to make the roster as a third quarterback? Let's explore some factors that could influence his chances of making the roster.
How many quarterbacks do the Patriots usually have on their active roster?
Like most teams, the Patriots tend to have either two or three quarterbacks on their active roster. Last year, the Patriots only kept Brady and Mallett. In 2011, the Patriots had Brady, Mallett and Brian Hoyer. In 2010, they only had Brady and Hoyer.
Based on recent history, the Patriots do not mind having only two quarterbacks on the roster. If this ends up being the case this year, Tebow will be the one left out.
Will Tebow be used for trick plays, or is he merely there for depth?
Tebow's biggest asset is his ability to run with the football, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The only hitch is that the Patriots already have the players to convert short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the league at converting a 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1 via the quarterback sneak. If the Patriots go with the more traditional route and hand it off, they are arguably the deepest team at running back in the NFL, with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount. Even Brandon Bolden, who is potentially on the roster bubble, is a capable runner.
Another possibility is that Tebow might come into the lineup for a couple of trick plays or to run the read-option. The biggest issue with him running the read-option is that Brady would have to come off the field or line up as a wide receiver.
If the former happens, the Patriots would be making things easier for opposing defenses because Brady's future Hall of Fame passing ability would be on the sidelines. In the latter case, Brady would be exposed to unnecessary contact.
The Patriots have already had one injury scare regarding Brady this preseason. I'm sure they would like to avoid a second.
Sure, Tebow has a chance to line up at running back or tight end. At the same time, what does he bring to the table from the running back position that the Patriots wouldn't have without him? Furthermore, does he even have the skill set to play tight end in the NFL?
None of these scenarios regarding Tebow seem realistic, which could mean that he is on the team to be the third-string quarterback and nothing more. This ties back into the previous question.
Is keeping a third-string quarterback a more worthwhile use of a roster spot than keeping an extra defensive player, running back, receiver or offensive lineman?
If head coach Bill Belichick decides that the answer is no, then Tebow will not make the final roster.
How will Tebow bounce back in his third preseason game?
To put it bluntly, Tebow's preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was ugly. Each preseason game is crucial for players who are already on the roster bubble.
The Tampa Bay game was not enough to cut Tebow, but it put more pressure on him to respond with a solid game. If he doesn't deliver, the Patriots may move on. At the same time, one great game could be all it takes to save his job.
The next game for the New England Patriots is Thursday, August 22 against the Detroit Lions. Hopefully, that game will provide more answers to the Patriots' enigmatic backup quarterback situation.
One thing is clear: Tebow will need to show substantial improvement in his third preseason game in order to avoid being cut.