NEW YORK — Each time Tim Tebow steps on the field for the New York Jets, defenses will know what to expect.
Well, the unexpected, of course.
The versatile and elusive quarterback with the flair for dramatic victories was acquired Wednesday from the Denver Broncos and will give the Jets’ offense a boost — for at least a few snaps a game.
“Instead of a team just preparing for our base offense, they will have to prepare for what we do and what we may do,” coach Rex Ryan said at LSU’s pro day Thursday in Baton Rouge, La.
Tebow won’t start as he did in Denver, not with New York committed to Mark Sanchez. But Tebow gives the Jets the option to run offensive coordinator Tony Sparano’s wildcat offense — the one that confused teams while in Miami with the Dolphins — and provides an intriguing presence when games are on the line.
“Tim is an outstanding football player, and we can use him,” Ryan said. “He’ll fit our wildcat package. As a defensive coach, I know how hard it is to defend the wildcat. We can take it to another level with Tim. We will have things for Tebow each week.”
Consider that fair warning.
“What we’ve seen from him, you’ve got to watch every time he’s in there,” Jets defensive end Mike DeVito said. “He has the ability to throw the ball and a great ability to run the ball, so any role we put him in, it’ll keep defenses on their toes.”
DeVito and the rest of the Jets know that from experience. Tebow led a 95-yard winning touchdown drive against New York last November, scoring on a 20-yard scramble with less than a minute remaining. That set off a string of stirring comebacks as the Broncos rode Tebow’s incredible late-game play — despite his ugly mechanics and passing stats — all the way to the playoffs, including an overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening round.
Long before all that, Tebow already had developed a faithful following that overlooked his flaws and focused on his leadership and ability to come through in the clutch. He’s bringing those same qualities to New York, but he’ll be in a different role.
“They want me to come in and compete and get better, and get better as a quarterback and to help the team any way possible,” Tebow said Wednesday night. “Whatever that role is, I will do my best every time I step on that field and give my heart and soul.”
Sanchez will get the snaps as the starting quarterback, and Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum have told anyone who’ll listen that he is their unquestioned No. 1 guy under center.
“Mark is a great competitor,” Ryan said. “He’s our starting quarterback. We’re incredibly fortunate to have two young quarterbacks with playoff experience and playoff wins. Mark has taken us to two AFC championship games in three years. That speaks volumes about him. He is just hitting his stride.”
But Sanchez also is coming off a shaky season in which he had as many touchdown passes as turnovers: 26. His decision-making and leadership came under fire by fans, media and even some anonymous players in the offseason. After a quick flirtation with the idea of chasing Peyton Manning, the Jets issued a huge vote of confidence to Sanchez by giving him a three-year contract extension.
But less than two weeks later, New York traded for Tebow — a player with a rock-star persona and an impressive resume smattered with comeback wins. Just how secure Sanchez’s job is remains to be seen once he throws his first interception or has a bad drive. But what the Jets envision is Sanchez leading the offense and Tebow running the wildcat formation when they need a spark.
“If our offense is sputtering, and we have, say, three three-and-outs, and we roll this out there and it’s successful, who knows?” Tannenbaum said on 1050 ESPN Radio on Thursday. “I think it will just depend on the game and the situation.”
Third-and-long? Put Tebow in to make defenses dare him to throw.
Fourth-and-goal? Try to tackle the guy, who’s built more like a fullback at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds.
Oh, he’s in the wildcat, which Sparano so adores? Well, defenses need to decide if he’s going to take off running, hand it off or catch defensive backs napping with a toss over their heads.
“We think we can have explosive plays out of that package as well,” Tannenbaum said.
So, it could be five snaps a game. Or, seven. Maybe even nine or 10. One thing’s for sure: Tebow gives the Jets their first true multipurpose threat since Brad Smith, who left as a free agent last offseason.
“Excited about the tebow trade,” wide receiver Jeremy Kerley wrote on Twitter. “It’s obvious tht he’s a winner and thts Wht we need!”
For a team that was done in last season by distractions and disharmony, Tebow’s addition would appear to do little more than add to an already volatile situation. There are times Sanchez will have to come off the field when Tebow jogs onto it, something that won’t please the ultra-competitive quarterback heading into his fourth season. Ryan, though, insists Tebow and Sanchez can co-exist — and win together.
“Tim gives us another competitor,” Ryan said. “I love Tim’s competitiveness. He’ll fit in with our team. There will be no problem at all. We care about our team first and foremost. Those two guys are just like that.”
The Jets currently have four quarterbacks on their roster — Sanchez, Tebow, recently signed Drew Stanton and Greg McElroy. Stanton signed with New York to be the No. 2 but wants out now that Tebow is here. Tannenbaum made it clear that Tebow will be Sanchez’s backup, serving in the role veteran Mark Brunell held the last two seasons.
“Brunell was more like a coach, and now Mark’s going to have like a brother in there, someone he can lean on and someone he can grow with — and they can grow together at the position,” DeVito said. “So, I think Mark is going to be excited.”
The possibilities certainly make the Jets excited. After all, Ryan is determined to go back to the run-first, “Ground-and-Pound” approach that made them so successful in his first two seasons as coach. With Tebow on board, the Jets just might have gotten the perfect addition for Ryan’s master plan.
“What we’ve become,” Tannenbaum said while announcing the deal Wednesday night, “is a diverse, more dynamic offense that’s going to make it more difficult for opposing teams to defend.”