Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: May 4, 12:19 PM ET
Tim Tebow impresses Tony Sparano
By Rich Cimini
After only two months on the job, New York Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano was handed a potential quarterback controversy with Tim Tebow arriving in late March to back up Mark Sanchez.
Sparano, speaking to reporters Thursday for the first time since he was hired, said he was "completely on board" with the Tebow trade. He spoke glowingly of Tebow, saying the quarterback has made "eye-opening" improvement as a passer since Sparano coached him two years ago in the Senior Bowl.
Trying to be cagey, Sparano refused to divulge his specific plans for Tebow, who will be used in a wildcat-like package. Sparano said his No. 1 objective is to make Tebow a complete quarterback, not a gadget player. He predicted a harmonious, but competitive relationship between Tebow and Sanchez.
"I'm not concerned about that, honestly," Sparano said. "At the end of this whole thing, it's about trying to find good football players. Mark Sanchez is one hell of a player ... and Tim Tebow is a good football player, too.
"When you put both of those guys in a room, if they're playing checkers, they're going to compete and they're going to go like heck to win. I think the more of these people you can get around your football team, the better off your team is going to be ... I don't think there will be a problem managing it."
The Sanchez-Tebow dynamic is more complex than checkers, but the Jets believe Rex Ryan and the no-nonsense Sparano, previously the Miami Dolphins' head coach, can keep it under control.
Sparano got his first up-close look at Tebow in the 2010 Senior Bowl, where his staff coached Tebow. At the time, Sparano told colleagues he wasn't at all impressed with Tebow, according to a league source. His opinion has changed.
"Fundamentally, Tim has gotten much better," he said. "You could see the amount of time he spent at it ... He's completely different now than he was when he came out of college."
When the Jets traded for Tebow, they said the plan was to deploy him in the wildcat, with Ryan saying it could be up to 20 plays per game. Sparano agreed with that number, but refused to shed any light on the different ways Tebow could be used, even declining to commit to the wildcat as a certainty.
There have been reports of Tebow playing running back and, possibly, H-back. Sparano said "all those things are on the table," but the Jets' mission is to make him a better quarterback.
"Obviously, our first goal here is to turn Tim into ... uh, to continue to work with him and to have him mature as a quarterback," said Sparano, perhaps changing direction when he realized he was about to say something that could feed a potential controversy.
"That's what we're trying to do here. With that being said, he comes with a different skill set, obviously, from college. That's a good thing for us. He has the ability to do a lot of different jobs. At the game, that's what you really want."
Sparano is regarded as the father of the wildcat, having unveiled it in 2008 with the Dolphins. At the time, the primary reason was to get their top two players, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, on the field at the same time.
But they were running backs, and there was no quarterback controversy with Chad Pennington. But now it could get dicey with Sanchez and Tebow. Sparano insisted that it won't stunt Sanchez's development as a passer.
Predictably, Sparano gushed about Sanchez, who committed a career-high 26 turnovers last season. He tried to spin Sanchez's performance into a positive. While saying the turnovers can't be dismissed, Sparano claimed Sanchez improved in a few areas.
"I'm excited about where he is," Sparano said. "The only thing I can tell you right now is he's had a tremendous offseason. He's gotten himself into good shape. I've been really impressed with him."
The new offensive boss, on the eve of the team's rookie minicamp, expressed optimism on just about every topic. He said mercurial wide receiver Santonio Holmes has "special ability," he praised running back Shonn Greene and he managed to say nice things about embattled right tackle Wayne Hunter -- although he stopped short of saying Hunter will be the starter.
Sparano said his evaluation process included watching every play from the last two seasons.