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Tuesday, 11 June 2013

First Sound: Tebowmania heads to New England

Last year I did one of these for Tebow's move to the Jets, and after they cut him in April I sincerely hoped I wouldn't have to write another. But with tonight's news that my beloved New England Patriots decided to sign "The Circus" (yes, I did just come up with a nickname for him) I have to do it again.

The first thing I did when I saw the news, other than register my displeasure on social media, was fix a very large, very strong drink. I disagree with Tebow's politics and preaching, but that's not the reason I hate this move. It's what he can and can't offer on the field, and what happens around him off the field.


While I doubt we'll see any "Start Tebow" billboards along the I-95, the Patriots get enough press attention and scrutiny as it is given the sports-centric nature of Boston. While it's not as bad as it is for the Red Sox, the reactions to Wes Welker's drop in Super Bowl XLVI shows you just how bright the light can be on Bean Town's sports teams.

The circus that comes along with Tebow WILL travel to Foxboro and add to the general craziness that is Patriots training camp. And that's the kind of thing that Bill Belichick hates, which leads us to the main question, just what is Belichick up to here?

Bill loves his Gators. Aside from recent draftees Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes (who are starters) and 3rd-down rusher Jermaine Cunningham; Jabar Gaffney, Fred Taylor and Gerard Warren have all been on recent Patriots rosters, not to mention Belichick's other connections to SEC football. The Patriots were also one of the teams who took the most time in scouting Tim Tebow during his draft process in 2010, and lest we forget offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was the one who spent a first round pick on him with the Denver Broncos. So there's clearly a lot of interest in him among the coaching staff. But after facing, and smashing, Tebow's offense twice in 2011 what does Belichick really think Tebow can do for New England on the field?

Taking the ball out of Tom Brady's hands for any "wildcat" package is madness, and as we saw with his time at the Jets Tebow is utterly married to the idea of being a Quarterback. It's admirable really, that he's holding onto his dreams so tightly, but as a Quarterback he offers absolutely nothing for New England in the here and now. Could he transfer to another position then? Well from his senior year onwards that was the talk that always surrounded Tebow. How many times did you hear: "This guy is built like a fullback" or "He runs as hard as any tail back"? But as any coach should know, there's a big difference between "Looks like a X" and "Can actually play X".

Just coaching Tebow to be a fullback or tight end would be a full time job for the summer, and as we saw with the Jets, he seems to be pathalogically averse to catching the ball:

This gif was apparently bought to us by the folks over at
bleacherreport.com
And yet, there seems to be space for Tebow on the Patriots roster. They didn't carry a fullback last year, using 3rd string TE Michael Hoomanawanui (yes I did have to google the spelling) as a fullback on occasion.

There's also space for the 6 foot 3, 236lbs at tight end at the moment. With Rob Gronkowski having surgery on his still-not-healed forearm and a back issue while Aaron Hernandez had shoulder surgery there are snaps to be had for those behind "Gronknandez" in the depth chart. Given what New England like to do with their tight ends and their no-huddle offense someone as physical yet fast as Tebow could actually work out there.

But, would he really be a replacement for a healthy Gronk and Hernandez? Not to forget Jake Ballard who the Patriots snapped up off the waiver wire last year. I highly doubt such reliable targets for Brady would be replaced by Tebow in any situation come the regular season.

So, could Tebow be used as a 4th & short/goal line guy? Force the defense to think and plan for something different by putting him in. Sounds good right? But Brady is 18-for-19 since 2002 in converting fourth-and-1 sneaks, not to mention the amount of times he quick-snaps a defense to sneak for a 1st down on 3rd & short. And given the kind of power-run success the Patriots had with Stevan Ridley and an offensive line who all return for 2013, why risk changing it?

Which leaves one option for in-game use: special teams. And the Jets tried him there last season as an up-back/personal protector, which he didn't really stand out as. His mere presence on the field alerts defenses to the chance of a fake, and given his terrible passing accuracy he doesn't offer enough of an upgrade over putting any fast player there to grab a direct snap and run for the 1st down should New England decide to run a fake punt, which by the way they rarely ever do anyway.

So just what use is Tim Tebow beyond added jersey sales? As far as I can see the biggest use he can be is as a scout quarterback. With the rise of the read-option in the NFL it's important that every defense is well versed in defending it. And while the majority of the read-option-using offenses are in the NFC (Seattle, Washington, Carolina) that doesn't mean New England will never face a team who might use it. The Buffalo Bills made the mobile and agile EJ Manuel their 1st round selection in April, and the Syracuse coaching staff that has come across to Buffalo this off-season incorporated the read-option to their Ryan Nassib-lead offense in 2012. Manuel is far better suited to that style, and while I doubt that will be a base for them, the fact that New England have to compete with that twice a year (plus a game against Cam Newton in 2013) suggests that getting to grips with mobile quarterbacks should be a priority for New England's defense.

Some might say that Tebow could be "groomed" as the future successor to Brady, but given his mechanical and accuracy issues, together with his inability to be happy in the role of a backup, make that unlikely. As does the presence of the current #15 Ryan Mallett (the secret storyline is what will happen over that number. Tebow & his PR people will almost certainly do anything to get it. Will we see something as great as the Hasselbeck-Harnish #8 battle?) who is a far more polished NFL quarterback option. For Tebow to overcome his passing issues will take a lot of coaching, and importantly it will take a lot of reps during minicamps and training camp, reps that Brady will fight tooth and nail for as he needs to grow an understanding with his new-look receiving corps.

In the end then, I think this signing will mean little for New England. I'd be very surprised if he breaks camp on the 53-man roster as the Patriots, but if he's willing to put aside his dreams of being an NFL QB and fully commit his All-Pro work ethic to another position? Well a quick glance at the Patriots roster shows open positions to be few and far between, so it will be a very, very close thing.

- Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
- The Pulling Linemen


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