William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US Presswire
It'll be Tebow Time tonight in the Jets' preseason opener.CINCINNATI -- This will be the Jets' most compelling preseason opener since 2009, when Mark Sanchez made his NFL debut against the Rams. This time, the spotlight will be on Sanchez's backup, Tim Tebow, one of many storylines Friday night against the Bengals.
What to watch for:
1. Tebowmania. Strange phenomenon here: The TV ratings could actually spike when the starters leave the game. When Sanchez & Co. are done, it'll be Tebow Time -- America's first look at the Jets' backup QB/Wildcat QB/personal protector. Tebow probably will play the second and third quarters in a conventional offense, perhaps making a cameo as the up-back on the punt team, but the burning question is: Will the Jets give the rest of the league a look at Tebow in the Wildcat? That seems unlikely. New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said it'll be a vanilla game plan.
2. The Mark and Tony Show. Tebow's debut will provide the flash, but the most substantive storyline is Sanchez and the new offense. Sanchez appears to have a strong grasp of Sparano's system, but what about everybody else? There will be growing pains, for sure, which is why Sparano will try to keep it basic in the first dress rehearsal. The Jets want to establish a Ground-and-Pound mentality, so it wouldn't be a surprise if they come out with a power-running approach. That would send a message. The Bengals will be a good test; they have a big, physical front seven.
3. Offensive auditions. There's a lot of fluidity on offense, more than usual. Consider: Who will be the No. 2 running back, Joe McKnight or Bilal Powell? Third-down back, McKnight or Powell? Who's the No. 2 tight end? Can someone challenge the injured Jeremy Kerley for the No. 3 WR job? Is rookie WR Stephen Hill ready to start? Can RT Austin Howard, who has the size and run-blocking potential to fit Sparano's scheme, push incumbent Wayne Hunter? There are a lot of moving parts, not an ideal situation when you're installing a new system.
4. Meet the rookies. The focus will be on Hill and DE Quinton Coples, their No. 1 pick. Coples hasn't shown much in camp, but it always takes a while for the big fellas to get acclimated. Rex Ryan anointed him a starter as soon as the draft was over, but now it appears that Coples' playing time will come in the 4-3 and sub packages, not the 3-4 base. You'll also get an early look at LB Demario Davis, who will play in the first sub package. They haven't counted on this many rookies since the blockbuster 2006 draft.
5. Safety in numbers. The biggest free-agent acquisition -- former Redskins S LaRon Landry -- makes his Jets debut. He has impressed on the practice field, especially at the line of scrimmage and behind the line as a blitzer, but he still has to answer questions about his coverage ability. Ditto, Yeremiah Bell, the former Dolphin. Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham is fast enough to threaten a secondary, so this will be a good, early test for a pass defense that struggled last season against athletic tight ends.