Tim Tebow preps at QB, punt team

Updated: May 25, 2012, 12:53 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Practicing in front of the media for the first time as a member of the New York Jets, Tim Tebow looked terrific.

On special teams, that is.

At quarterback, not so much.

Tebow threw two interceptions Thursday in the seven-on-seven portion of the Jets' OTA session, later receiving his first less-than-effusive evaluation from a member of the organization.

Coach Rex Ryan, assessing Tebow after the first week of organized team activities, said his new backup quarterback has been "up and down."

Ryan tempered that by saying he's pleased with Tebow, whose diverse skill set was on display before dozens of media types. Late in the two-hour practice, he was deployed as the "up" back -- or personal protector -- on the punt team.

This wasn't a surprise -- the Jets told Tebow two months ago they plan to use him on special teams -- but it still was an odd sight. Tebow, wearing a red quarterback jersey, sprinted downfield, looking to make a "tackle" in the non-contact drills.

Tebow joked about it afterward. Asked to recall the last time he made a tackle on special teams, he said with a smile, "I'd have to say never."

Never a dull moment around the Jets' newest star attraction. Random question: Will he "Tebow" if he tackles a punt returner in the open field?

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez and Tim Tebow
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireMark Sanchez, left, looked sharp at quarterback Thursday but Tim Tebow was intercepted twice.

"It's definitely something I'm trying to get used to," he said of his new role. "It's unique, but it's fun. [I'm] having a good time out there."

When he's not covering punts, Tebow has worked exclusively at quarterback. The Jets have big plans for him in a Wildcat package, but they haven't installed any of those plays. For now, they want to assimilate him into Tony Sparano's offense, and they feel the best way is to have him learn the quarterback position.

On Thursday, Tebow suffered a few hiccups, throwing interceptions to linebacker Bart Scott and recently signed safety Yeremiah Bell. In contrast, incumbent Mark Sanchez looked sharp throughout the practice, appearing relaxed and in command.

Sanchez, overshadowed in recent weeks because of all the Tebow fanfare, received glowing praise from Ryan. The coach said Sanchez's arm looks stronger than ever. On one play, he threw an 80-yard bomb to rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill.

"He's throwing the ball really well, with a lot of zip on it," Ryan said.

Tebow threw the ball to the wrong side in one sloppy stretch -- two picks in a span of three passes. He shrugged it off.

"It's definitely frustrating, but it's seven-on-seven and those plays are the first time I ran them," Tebow said. "I'll learn from it. Honestly, it won't bother me again. When you make a bad play, put it behind you and move on.

"I felt like I did, and went out in the next team period and I felt like I did OK. You have to remember where you are and what you're doing. It's seven-on-seven, the first time running those plays."

Tebow has been working hard on his mechanics, especially trying to clean up his footwork. He acknowledged that he's sometimes too short on his dropbacks, throwing off the timing with the receivers' routes. That, he said, has been a focus.

Ryan sounded more excited about Tebow's prospects on special teams than at quarterback. He said Tebow's presence as the "up" back creates the possibility of a fake punt -- a direct snap to him -- which should deter opponents from pressuring the punter.

What about the prospect of exposing his No. 2 quarterback to possible injury? Ryan scoffed.

"That's a big man," he said of the 6-foot-3, 236-pound Tebow. "I remember my dad always saying, 'It's hard to kick somebody's butt when he's kicking yours.'

"They're going to line up and they're going to come after Tebow, but I can tell you one guy [not afraid] of it -- that's Tim Tebow. I'm not afraid of it, either."

Tebow is fiercely competitive, so much so that teammates say he tries to place first in wind sprints. Asked about that, Tebow didn't disagree, providing an answer that might shed light on how badly he wants to become the starter.

"I don't like losing," he said. "Pretty much, every time I'm competing. I'll pretty much do whatever it takes to win. I'm pretty competitive."

With regard to Sanchez, Tebow has said all the right things, but the intense media scrutiny could fuel a quarterback controversy. Cornerback Darrelle Revis insisted the locker room won't take sides.

"We're not doing that," he said. "This team, this locker room, we're not doing that. We're not going, 'Oh, what does Mark look like today? What does Tim look like?' We're not doing that. It's not going to happen."

If Tebow-mania is getting to Sanchez, he didn't show it. Not only was he sharp on the field, but he seemed relaxed in the locker room. In the past, even in recent weeks, he appeared uptight.

"I get a good vibe from what we're doing now," said Sanchez, insisting his only objective is to master Sparano's offense.

No one on offense has any background in Sparano's offense, so it's a learning experience for everyone. Sanchez also is learning to deal with the Tebow phenomenon.

Tebow already is enormously popular in the locker room. When he arrived at his locker to speak with reporters, he was serenaded with good-natured catcalls from around the locker room, players yelling, "Tebow!"

This is what Sanchez is dealing with.

"I wouldn't be in this position," Sanchez said, "if I couldn't handle it."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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