FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Tim Tebow might add a new job title to an already-lengthy list.
The do-it-all backup quarterback could see time at running back in the New York Jets’ banged-up backfield Sunday against the New England Patriots on Sunday.
“That’s a possibility,” coach Rex Ryan said Thursday. “The thing about Tim — with him being a football player like we’ve always talked about — by playing quarterback, he knows all the positions. So, can you plug him in at running back? Can you plug him in at tight end or whatever?
“I think the answer is yes.”
The Jets are a bit short-handed at the position with backups Joe McKnight (sprained left ankle) and Bilal Powell (separated right shoulder) likely out for the game — although McKnight insisted, “It’s for first place, I’m in there.” That leaves only starter Shonn Greene and rookie Jonathan Grimes, who has yet to play, as the team’s only completely healthy running backs. Lex Hilliard is the remaining fullback after the Jets waived John Conner on Wednesday.
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano echoed Ryan’s comments on Tebow, and was just as vague.
“There’s a possibility,” he said. “There’s a possibility for a lot of things. We’ll see.”
But could Tebow actually make a good running back?
“I think Tim Tebow could be good at whatever he wants to be good at,” Sparano said.
Tebow’s role has been limited in his first season with the Jets, but he has carried the ball 18 times for 64 yards — all on direct snaps as the team’s wildcat quarterback or in the read-option package. He has lined up at quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, fullback and running back at times throughout the season, creating the element of surprise for opponents.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said earlier in the week that Tebow is “really a running back” for the Jets, so Ryan’s acknowledgement should hardly come as a surprise to him.
“He’s a good runner, he’s a strong runner, very strong,” Belichick said. “He’s mobile in the pocket, (a) smart player, he can do a lot of different things. Different option plays and things like that, so you certainly have to be aware of him when he’s in there.”
Greene ran for a career-high 161 yards last Sunday against Indianapolis as New York rolled up 252 yards on the ground. It might be tougher sledding in Foxborough this weekend, though, with the Patriots ranked sixth overall against the run. So, the Jets might be forced to change some things up if Greene struggles early. That means Tebow could see some extensive time in the backfield — and maybe even get a few carries.
“Who’s that?” Greene said with a straight face.
You know, that guy the Jets traded for in March to give the offense a boost?
“No,” Greene said. “Never heard of him.”
Seriously, though, Greene insists he would be OK if Tebow took some of his carries in game — as long as it helps New York win. However, he wouldn’t bite on detailing what Tebow would bring to the position.
“I don’t know,” Greene said. “I guess I’ll see, just like you guys.”
Added Grimes: “Man, everybody loves to see Tebow get out there and do his thing, and I do, too. Whatever it takes to win.”
While there could be some gamesmanship going on, as there usually is between the Jets and Patriots leading up to their matchups, putting Tebow in the backfield makes some sense.
Many fans and media have questioned the way Sparano has used Tebow throughout the first part of the season, with the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback playing only 44 of the Jets’ offensive snaps. Tebow has shown an ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by him converting three fake punts for first downs this season.
Tebow, knocked for his inconsistency as a passer, thrived last season in Denver when the Broncos made him the starting quarterback and restructured their offense around him. He ended up running for 660 yards and was a threat for a big gain at any time. The Jets would keep Mark Sanchez as the starting quarterback, but by having Tebow lined up behind him, they could keep the Patriots guessing: Will Sanchez throw it? Will Sanchez hand it off to Tebow? Will Tebow throw it? Will Tebow get a direct snap and try to make a play?
“I would be ready for whatever I would be asked to do, absolutely,” Tebow said Wednesday.
Would that include playing extensively at running back on Sunday?
“I don’t know,” Tebow said. “It’s not something that’s been talked (about) or planned or worked on at all, so probably not.”
Well, Tebow certainly looks the part of a running back, or at least a fullback after gaining muscle in the offseason to get up to nearly 250 pounds to handle the blocking on special teams. He has also been used to block on offense at times, when he and Sanchez have been on the field together.
“His skillset would be more based on power,” Ryan said. “I think he’s not going to be a blazer compared to other running backs, but he’s got power.”
The Jets curiously brought in free agent quarterback Kevin O’Connell for a workout Tuesday, and Ryan wouldn’t say Wednesday whether a signing was imminent. New York already has Sanchez, Tebow and Greg McElroy at the position, so the interest in O’Connell sparked theories that perhaps the Jets were considering changing their depth chart — and shifting Tebow’s primary responsibilities to other areas on offense.
Ryan said the team isn’t looking to add a speedier running back even with McKnight possibly out, joking that the Jets aren’t considering trying cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who has played some at wide receiver, in the backfield.
“We’re good,” Ryan said. “We have some good backs, so I’m comfortable in our running back situation.”
Grimes was signed by the Jets from the Houston Texans’ practice squad on Sept. 25, after being undrafted out of William & Mary. He’s the school’s career leader in rushing, all-purpose yards, kickoff return yards and rushing attempts, so he’s ready to contribute in any way he can for the Jets.
“I’m excited,” Grimes said. “I think we could really do something. People saw the potential last week of the kind of team we could be and it’s nice to be a part of that.”