Tim Tebow ready to take field

Updated: August 10, 2012, 4:10 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

CINCINNATI -- Tim Tebow 2.0 will be unveiled Friday night in the same stadium that he made his NFL preseason debut as a rookie. This time, the New York Jets' backup quarterback hopes he doesn't rip any muscles.

On the final play of the Denver Broncos' opener in 2010, Tebow ran 7 yards for a meaningless touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals, colliding with two defenders and suffering a torn oblique.

"Yeah, I remember because I'm super competitive," Tebow said this week with a laugh, claiming no regrets. "That's who I am."

The Jets will get their first up-close view of Tebow in a non-controlled environment Friday against the Cincinnati Bengals, a debut that will capture national attention because of the extraordinary hype that has surrounded him since his trade to the Jets in March.

Tebow could change the way preseason games are viewed. Many fans lose interest when the starters are removed, but that won't be the case with Tebow, the most popular backup quarterback in the NFL.

There's a built-in fascination with Tebow, but also a mystique because the Jets have yet to reveal how they plan to use him other than to say he'll be deployed in a Wildcat package. He also will play on special teams as the personal protector on the punt team -- and you might see him in that role Friday night.

Asked how he'll feel on his first "live" play on the punt team, Tebow shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

"I don't know, I've never done it before," he said. "It will be fun. We'll figure how what they're doing and, hopefully, have something good ready for them."

It could be the first time in TV history that the personal protector is isolated on camera.

Tebow has practiced extensively in the role of the up-back, even throwing a few passes on direct snaps, but it's unlikely the Jets will show any gadget plays in the preseason. They want to keep opponents guessing, which described their entire philosophy with Tebow.

"Wildcat is something that Cincinnati needs to prepare for right now," Rex Ryan said, smiling.

New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said "there's always a chance" they will use Tebow in the Wildcat. But that, too, seems unlikely in the first game, as the Jets are trying to master Sparano's base offense. In 10 practices, they've used one Wildcat play, with Tebow crashing through the line to score in a goal-line drill.

That, of course, made national headlines.

"It's going to be vanilla," Sparano said of his game plan for the Bengals.

In terms of actual playing time, Tebow probably will play about two quarters. Quarterback Mark Sanchez and the starting offense, minus wide receiver Santonio Holmes (ribs), will play the first quarter -- roughly 12 to 15 plays.

The starters need all the playing time they can get, because they've been spotty throughout training camp. The offense has made more headlines for starting fights than scoring touchdowns.

"We anticipate doing well," Sanchez said. "Other than that, there's nothing else in my head."

Sanchez has outplayed Tebow -- not even close -- but the Jets insist it's not a quarterback competition. Tebow admitted he has been frustrated at times because controlled practices -- no hitting the quarterback -- aren't conducive to his style of play.

Finally, he loses the red jersey.

"Friday night isn't the destination," said Tebow, downplaying the significance. "It's just another step in our journey to get better, so when we play Buffalo (Sept. 9), we're ready to go."

Tebow has received only a handful of first-team reps in practice, and it's unlikely that he'll get any work with the starters Friday night, according to Ryan. For now, the goal is to get him comfortable in the offense. He tends to hold the ball too long in the pocket, and Sparano has been on him about fixing that.

In practice, Tebow has demonstrated the ability to complete the long ball, but he has struggled with accuracy on short and intermediate throws.

"I'm trying to be someone who makes great decisions and isn't always trying to get the deep ball, but checking it down and being a smart quarterback," said Tebow, learning his third system in three years.

Now he goes back to Cincinnati, where it all began -- the first glimpse of his fiercely competitive nature.

Recalling his touchdown in the 33-24 loss, a play in which he and two defenders were down and hurt, Tebow said, "I was just thinking, 'I got to be the first one to get up.'"

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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