- Ian O'Connor, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As a second-stringer with some first-string qualities, as an athlete acquired to attack an area of weakness, Tim Tebow always made perfect football sense. Rex Ryan never had a worthy quarterback behind Mark Sanchez, and Tebow changed that in a New York minute.
Some hysterics raged against the trade, even if a few of them hadn't actually made it out to a Jets practice since Ryan arrived. That's OK. If you were standing on the practice field Thursday watching Tebow take his snaps against the defense, this much was abundantly clear:
People kept comparing Tebow to Sanchez when more time should've been spent comparing the league's MPP -- Most Polarizing Player -- to Sanchez's Jurassic backup, Brunell. Tebow gives the Jets security at the one position that makes or breaks a franchise. If Sanchez goes down for three or four games, the season won't be totally shot because of it.
But beyond the depth and Wildcat/special-teams versatility Tebow represents, the Jets wanted him for less tangible reasons. Ryan couldn't go on forever as the team's one and only energy source, especially since he's retired from the Super Bowl-guarantee business, effectively muting those who thought it was a wonderful idea he was making those empty promises in the first place.
Tebow was hired to pump new blood into a fake contender desperate for some. He radiates a positive, can-do vibe; even the haters have to concede as much. Tebow can be a difference-maker in what was a divided, dysfunctional locker room in 2011.
"I think everybody sees Tim for what he is," Ryan said after his final OTA, "and that's a super-competitive guy, and he's good with teammates. He's always building guys up, I noticed, and by the way, he's a talented kid."
Ryan told a little story from his podium, told of walking into the weight room to find a big, beefy lineman challenging Tebow to a duel. The lineman grabbed a heavy weight with each hand, stretched his arms out wide as if to form a cross and held them for about a minute and four seconds, shaking the whole time before turning over the weights to Tebow.
"And Tim went for a minute and 18," Ryan said.
The coach went on about Tebow's willingness to tuck the ball and run in practice, even when the defense is in a pass-friendly alignment and chirping at the newbie to put it in the air. "He's done some things in previous practices," Ryan said, "where it's like, 'Wow, that's a football player.'"
Tebow is also a conspicuous presence, something Brunell was not. Wearing his red jersey, the universal football sign for hands-off, Tebow could not match the pace or accuracy of the starting red jersey, Sanchez, who didn't even pack his A-game Thursday; in fact, the defense dominated the two-hour session.
But that's the way it's supposed to be. Sanchez is the superior passer, by far, and Tebow's improvisational skills are best applied in smaller doses. The bigger the dose, the more problematic Tebow's wayward arm tends to be.
"He's everything as advertised," Sanchez said at his locker. "He's a great athlete and he plays hard. He competes his butt off and he's a great asset for this team."
Sanchez was comfortable enough in his own first-string skin to invite Tebow to his upcoming "Jets West" camp, and to call the notion that he might not want to include his main competition "ridiculous." Sanchez knows New Yorkers are too smart to start chanting for his backup after the first interception of 2012, a scenario embraced by amateurs. He knows New Yorkers recall that as magical as Tebow was on that 95-yard drive in November that helped ruin the Jets' season, he was just as dreadful for the first 54 minutes of the game.
Thursday, Tebow made some nice throws here and there, delivering a tighter spiral than he showed over much of his time in Denver. Only the reserve offensive linemen assigned to protect Tebow failed and forced him to flee the pocket.
No, it wasn't the most distressing scene on the field, not with Santonio Holmes pulling himself out of practice and complaining about getting too many reps. But that's Sanchez's problem for now.
"I'm just trying to learn this offense," Tebow said, "trying to get better every single day, trying to understand what my role is and trying to improve that role and handle that role as best I can."
Asked to identify his current understanding of his role, Tebow repeated that he had to learn the playbook and compete. "And when I get in there," he said, "try to lead this offense and score points."
He said he was having a blast lining up as the up man on the punt team, a position that would allow him to take the snap and go. He swore that he maintains a "great relationship" with Sanchez, and that he appreciates the no-nonsense approach of new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, whom Tebow described as an outside-the-box thinker unafraid of cutting against the grain.
Sparano marched about the field barking at this guy and that guy, and his Lombardi Lite act would've been a hit on "Hard Knocks" for sure. But the Jets and Sanchez didn't need another strong personality on Ryan's staff as much as they needed a new driving force among the players.
Even behind Sanchez, Tebow believes he can be that force.
"I think sometimes you can let some of the stigmas get in the way when maybe you're a backup or you're not out there all the time," he said. "But I think if you're just yourself, you can't let that really bother you. If you just be who you are, then I think your leadership abilities can take back over.
"When you're in there, be yourself, encourage guys, be excited. Even if you're not in there, still encourage guys and be someone that hopefully can be a coach on the field."
Tebow's already won over some skeptical Jets. Darrelle Revis called Denver's offense "boring" before last year's game, then took a pass on tackling Tebow on that final, fateful drive. Last month, after spending a little time around his new teammate, Revis suddenly raved about the quarterback's aura and ability to lead.
"Very few athletes have the gift he has," Revis said.
So the Jets have landed a valuable lefty out of the 'pen, a football player who will help them physically and emotionally. Yes, it's true that Mike Tannenbaum, Jets GM, has made his share of mistakes over the years.
It's also true Tim Tebow wasn't one of them.