Sparano: Tim Tebow role unchanged

Updated: August 12, 2012, 7:32 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Tim Tebow was more than a novelty act in the New York Jets' preseason opener. He was their best offensive weapon, escaping pressure to scramble three times for 34 yards.

It raised the question: Could the Jets expand the backup quarterback's role, using his running ability to compensate for pass-protection issues?

Coach Rex Ryan said Sunday he's "open to anything," but offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said it's not happening.

Sparano was so emphatic that he stopped the questioner in mid-sentence, shaking his head as if to say, "No." He didn't stop there. Sparano pretended to reel in a fish, as if to say, "You're fishing for a story."

"Mark is a good athlete and he's our quarterback," he said, giving Mark Sanchez a vote of confidence. "I thought he has been playing really well right now for us and I don't see that kind of scenario at all out there."

Ryan, always more open than Sparano when discussing strategy, didn't dismiss the possibility of using Tebow if Sanchez has trouble setting up against a fierce pass rush.

But the coach tried to sidestep the issue, saying they'd counter that problem in the regular season by making protection adjustments. In the first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Friday night, they ran only base plays, not wanting to reveal too much to future opponents.

Sanchez was under heavy pressure against the Bengals. In only nine drop-backs, he was sacked twice and escaped a third by scrambling for a first down. Later, he joked that he channeled his "inner Tebow."

Tebow, working behind the second-team line, faced similar pressure, but he scrambled for 14, 10 and 10 yards. The 14-yarder, on a third-and-8 in his only play out of the shotgun, was the longest run of the night for the Jets, who struggled in Sparano's first game.

The Jets, with a right tackle (Wayne Hunter) who struggled last season in pass protection, could have more games like Friday's. In that case, it might behoove them to use Tebow and let him do what he does best.

"Whether it's Wildcat or whatever it is for him, he brings a whole different skill set to the table, especially on broken plays," tight end Dustin Keller said of Tebow. "I think that's going to be a key for us when the season begins."

For the most part, the Jets have said Tebow will be used strictly in the Wildcat, insisting he's not competing with Sanchez for the starting job. They've managed the situation closely, knowing that mixed signals could trigger massive headlines.

Ryan, irked by criticism from those who claim the Wildcat has lost its luster, defended his plans to use the package. He revealed that he was interested in drafting quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2011 as a replacement for Brad Smith, who had run the Jets' Wildcat before signing with the Buffalo Bills.

On Friday night, Kaepernick, a second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, ran for a 78-yard touchdown on a designed play out of the shotgun -- as noted by Ryan.

Keller Whether it's Wildcat or whatever it is for him, he brings a whole different skill set to the table, especially on broken plays. I think that's going to be a key for us when the season begins.

-- Jets TE Dustin Keller on Tim Tebow

"Guys, the Wildcat is tough to defend," Ryan said. "Are we going to do it? Of course, at some point, we're going to do it. Some people think the Wildcat has come and gone. No, it hasn't. If anything, it's just the opposite."

The Jets didn't run any Wildcat plays against the Bengals. In fact, they've run only one play on the practice field during training camp -- but they're coming. Clearly, their objective is to make their regular-season opponents, starting with the Buffalo Bills, prepare for the Wildcat.

Sparano, a product of the Bill Parcells school of secrecy, has been less apt to discuss it publicly. Asked how he feels about Ryan's openness, Sparano smiled.

"I'm a quiet guy, Rex is the boss," he said. "He can put it out there. I think it's common knowledge that we might do something like that. I'm more concerned with letting them worry about it than giving them the answers to the test.

"With (Tebow), obviously, it's going to be out there that we're going to do something like that. The 'how' is the question."

Sparano became a bit defensive when questioned about the offense's less-than-stellar first game. In fact, the Jets were one of only six teams that didn't score a touchdown in the first full week of the preseason through Sunday.

Their starters struggled to run the ball (Shonn Greene had 11 yards on five attempts), and the pass protection was leaky all night (five sacks in 28 drop-backs).

On one play, Keller was wide open in the middle of the field, but Sanchez didn't have time to deliver the ball because of pressure.

Asked about the protection breakdowns, Sparano said, "Not breakdowns, there was one protection breakdown."

He also seemed happy with the running game.

"I realize that it was said out there that we didn't push anybody, but I would urge you to pick a phone up and call the people down there and ask them that question," he said, referring to the Bengals' coaches. "There were a lot of people pushed."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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