Commentary

Tim Tebow brings positive vibe

Patriots don't seem to mind offbeat buzz after tumultuous offseason

Updated: July 27, 2013, 7:18 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Well, this is a little different.

In a New England Patriots training camp that already has been outside the norm as coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady addressed Aaron Hernandez's murder charge before the team's first practice, one of the most intriguing storylines once players finally hit the field Friday morning -- in a driving rainstorm -- was the third-string quarterback.

That rousing cheer you might have heard around 8:50 a.m. ET? It was for Tim Tebow, who was easily spotted in his red No. 5 jersey.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Charles KrupaTim Tebow always draws a crowd, but third-string QB as fan favorite is something new for the Patriots.
The jersey that owner Robert Kraft personally delivered to the live set of ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" program about 40 minutes later? Tebow's.

The one player who had his last name chanted by a small but loud section of the 6,390 fans that braved the nasty conditions? "Te-bow! Te-bow! Te-bow!"

The quarterback who was inserted into a run-after-the-catch drill in which defenders focus on tackling technique? Hint: It wasn't Brady or Ryan Mallett.

And finally, the player who drew the largest media crowd at the end of practice?

It was all for a lightning-rod backup quarterback who, when considering the key issues facing the Patriots this season, ranks closer to the bottom of the list than the top. Yet there is intrigue. There always has been with Tebow, from the University of Florida to the Denver Broncos, to the New York Jets and now to New England.

Some might have watched him closely Friday, taken note of his two interceptions in 11-on-11 drills and another throw that skipped toward his intended target, and asked: "Why is he even here?"

He might not be here when rosters are trimmed from 90 to 53 by Aug. 31, as the Patriots have kept just two quarterbacks in three of the last four seasons. But for now, the Patriots' thought process with Tebow is becoming a bit clearer. There are different things that contribute to a winning team, and not all of them are seen by sellout crowds on Sunday afternoons.

"You know, I think sometimes our fans forget that the person who runs the scout team is usually the second or third quarterback. And he's a running quarterback, he's mobile …," Kraft said in a surprise appearance Friday on "Mike and Mike" during which he presented the Tebow jersey to co-host Mike Greenberg because of Tebow's past connection to Greenberg's favorite team, the Jets.

So maybe Tebow becomes the Patriots' scout-team quarterback at a time when the read-option offense has generated momentum around the NFL, and having an athletic signal-caller to duplicate it in practice might have more value than ever before (even though the teams that have used it most aren't on the Patriots' schedule in 2013).

In that regard, it made sense that Tebow was catching a few passes in Friday's practice, because the drill in which he did so was more about the running after the catch -- and how defenders use proper technique to square up a ball-carrier -- than the actual catch. We don't see Brady and Mallett participate in that drill, and why would they? The Patriots don't want them running because it doesn't play to their strengths. With Tebow, it's right in his wheelhouse.

While Belichick wouldn't commit to the idea of a plan to play Tebow exclusively at quarterback (after 14 years, we now know that Belichick doesn't like to be boxed into any corners), some already are wondering if perhaps he has some Tebow-related tricks up his hoodie sleeve. But Tebow, while saying he'll do whatever is asked of him, revealed that he's solely been in the quarterback room to this point.

Ultimately, his roster spot most likely will hinge on whatever value he provides from that position. On top of that, at a time when Brady talked about the franchise re-establishing itself in the wake of Hernandez's murder charge -- both in terms of winning games and in the community -- the fit with ultimate-nice-guy Tebow also makes some sense from an off-field perspective.

Already, coaches and teammates are taking note of his well-documented tireless work ethic. There aren't many who have been spending more time at Gillette Stadium than Tebow. That type of influence can be positive.

"The more good people you can have in your life, the better things are going to be," Kraft said on "Mike and Mike." "We're trying to collect as many good people as we can in all our businesses."

Maybe those thoughts carry more meaning to the franchise in the wake of a turbulent offseason. Either way, this is something oh-so-different when it comes to a No. 3 quarterback. You are a die-hard Patriots fan if you knew that the third-stringer before Tebow was Mike Kafka; and we know that Kraft wouldn't be delivering that jersey to his friends on "Mike and Mike" if Kafka was still on the roster.

In a training camp that has had a different feel from the norm, Tebow is a big part of it.

What unfolded Friday reinforced that.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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