Tebowmania has some life with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When the Jaguars signed Tim Tebow to a one-year contract, an overwhelming majority gave him no shot to make the 53-man roster because of the obvious reasons. He hasn't played a regular-season game since 2012. On top of that, the former quarterback will convert to a new position at tight end in his age-34 season.
In Tebow's last performance on an NFL field, he completed 11-of-17 passes for 189 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Week 4 of the 2015 preseason. Two days later, the Philadelphia Eagles cut him.
In August of 2016, Tebow went public with his intentions to play baseball. He spent most of his time in the New York Mets' minor league system. By February of 2021, Tebow formally announced his retirement.
Tebow's football journey came full circle when he inked a deal with the Jaguars and reunited with head coach Urban Meyer. Together at Florida, they won two BCS Championships (2006 and 2008). In 2007, Tebow became the first sophomore Heisman Trophy winner in NCAA history.
Critics who connected the dots between the player and coach argued Tebow's return robbed someone more deserving of a spot on the 90-man offseason roster. Jacksonville's transaction drew widespread criticism, but Meyer may have an intriguing plan for his polarizing acquisition.
Back in May, ESPN's Dianna Russini reported some people around the league believe the Jaguars will use Tebow in a "Taysom Hill-like role," which means we could see him throw, run the ball in short-yardage situations and catch some passes. Hill has logged 1,047 passing yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in addition to 1,145 yards and 18 touchdowns from scrimmage through four seasons.
Easier said than done.
Tebow is three years older than Hill, and he has to knock off years of rust while learning a new position. In addition to his potential role as a playmaker with the ball in his hands, he must work on his blocking technique.
In the first week of training camp, Tebow had a highlight touchdown reception and even looked the part of a tight end with a bulked-up frame:
However, as expected, Tebow had a lot to learn and put into practice. CBS Sports' Pete Prisco noted the 33-year-old's unwillingness to take on blocks and ranked him as the sixth-best tight end on the Jaguars roster.
Meyer had an honest assessment of Tebow's pass-catching skills, specifically when going against a live defender, per John Reid of the Florida Times-Union.
"In his drill work, he’s great, but when you get in a competitive moment, just [because of his] lack of experience he wants to body the ball,'' Meyer said. ''When you get to a point where two people are going after it, you have to go get the ball. He is fighting through that a little bit, but he has the skill set to catch the ball."
Although it doesn't always look fluid or natural, Tebow has flashed at camp. As a bold prediction, ESPN's Michael DiRocco made a case that the converted tight end could secure a roster spot.
"Tebow had the second-most catches of any tight end in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 during the first four days of camp. His seven receptions trail only Ben Ellefson (nine). A couple caveats: James O'Shaughnessy missed time with an ankle injury, and the defense was not allowed to play press coverage or go after throws. Still, the 33-year-old Tebow—who last played in a regular-season NFL game in 2012—hasn't had a drop, and it shows that he has a good grasp of the offense. He just needs to hold his own as a blocker once the pads go on and he'll make the 53-man roster."
While premier tight ends can catch and block, teams will carve out roles for specialists who excel in only one of those areas.
If Tebow uses his hands more than his body to catch the football, he could become a threat on obvious passing downs or in the red zone. Jaguars offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer believes Tebow's experience at quarterback allows him to see plays develop in the passing game (h/t Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio):
"You see the football mind, you see how he sees the game from the quarterback’s point of view. There was a play a couple days ago in the red zone where I think it was C.J. [Beathard] broke out and scrambled left and the first guy that saw it was Tim and we threw him a touchdown pass. Why is that? Well, he has played the position—he has stood back there and seen, 'Oh well he is moving this direction, I have to go with him.' It is going to be fun to watch him compete In the preseason as well.”
The Jaguars don't have a reliable pass-catching tight end, which is a void that allows Tebow a legitimate chance at an NFL comeback in 2021.
While Chris Manhertz and O'Shaughnessy are the most experienced within the group, neither has caught 30 passes in a single season. Last year, as rookies, Tyler Davis and Ellefson appeared in eight and seven games, respectively, but combined for one reception for 10 yards. In the fifth round of this year's draft, Jacksonville selected Luke Farrell, who didn't have more than 20 receptions in any of his four seasons at Ohio State.
Tebow isn't going to outperform his competition in blocking drills and scenarios. However, he can certainly showcase himself as a bigger threat to score touchdowns.
If Meyer and Schottenheimer want to turn Tebow into Taysom Hill 2.0, the Jaguars can hand him the ball inside the 10-yard line. In two seasons with the Denver Broncos, he rushed for 887 yards and 12 touchdowns. At 6'3", 255 pounds, Tebow would look like a fullback, mowing over defenders near the goal line or on 3rd-and-short.
When the Jaguars want to pull out gadget plays, Tebow's quarterback experience can pay dividends. He's not an accurate passer (47.9 percent career completion rate), but a well-designed play call can draw defenders in the box to stop the run and leave wide-open passing lanes for easy completions.
Tebow must show off his versatility through the preseason to make the team, and that's not an implausible feat with the type of tight ends on the Jaguars roster. Perhaps the doubters will have to change their tune on August 31 after final cuts.