- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The noisy and transparent New York Jets turned quiet and secretive Monday. You might say the 'Cat got their tongue.
After months of build-up, they practiced their ballyhooed Wildcat package for the first time, unveiling their plans for Tim Tebow. But there were no fans at practice, the media were restricted from reporting details and the players were ordered to stay mum.
"I don't know what you're talking about," running back Joe McKnight said, commenting on the practice. "Wildcat? I don't know nothing about the Wildcat."
The Jets picked a practice that was closed to the public, guaranteeing privacy. Teams must allow the media to attend training-camp practices until the second preseason game, according to league rules, but the Jets placed reporting restrictions on the two dozen or so media members at practice.
They've been talking up the Wildcat since trading for Tebow in March, but coach Rex Ryan, perhaps the most outspoken coach in the NFL, hasn't divulged any details. He said they practiced "standard Wildcat plays." The objective is to keep opponents guessing, especially the Buffalo Bills, their Week 1 foe.
After practice, it made for an almost comical scene, as Tebow and Mark Sanchez did their best to dodge questions from reporters.
When asked if they practiced anything new, a straight-faced Sanchez said they used a new quarterback drill, throwing the ball in a bucket for target practice.
Several times, Sanchez deferred questions to offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who introduced the Wildcat to the league in 2008 as the Miami Dolphins' coach.
The Jets used a version of the Wildcat from 2006 to 2010, with Brad Smith, but Sanchez refused to say if this will be a similar package.
"There's a lot going on, it's some pretty intense stuff," he said.
Tebow, known for evading would-be tacklers, did some of his best scrambling under the media tent. Asked if he has ever seen this much secrecy around a game plan, he laughed.
"I don't know if I've ever seen this much interest," he said. "I don't know if it's secrecy. We're running our offense and our plays and our reads. It's part of the offense for us."
But it's a big story because the Jets traded for Tebow, in large part, because of his ability to run a Wildcat-like scheme. He did it in college at Florida, and he ran the similar read-option attack with the Denver Broncos.
It's a fascinating dynamic because it involves Tebow, one of the NFL's most popular players, and because there likely will be situations where Sanchez comes out of the game. Another intriguing question is, what if the Wildcat is successful? Could it become the staple of the offense?
Ryan, who accused the media of "trying to make it a quarterback controversy," emphasized that Sanchez is his starting quarterback. He said the Wildcat will be "part" of the offense, but he also allowed:
"If you're not prepared for it, why wouldn't we run it? If you're not defending it well, why wouldn't we keep running it? You're going to run something until you stop it. That's the old saying with the Packers sweep, they kept running it."
After running 43 Wildcat plays in 2010, second most in the league, the Jets used it just 12 times last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Clearly, they missed Smith, who signed with the Bills.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins ran it a league-high 238 times under Sparano from 2008 to 2011, roughly six percent of their offensive plays.
"I think he could be a weapon," Sanchez said. "If you run it the right way, which Coach Sparano will do, you can be explosive with it. We have some great athletes and we want to use all their talents."
When Sparano ran it in Miami, he did it with running back Ronnie Brown, who couldn't throw a lick. Tebow, despite his well-documented accuracy issues, presents a different dimension because he's a threat to pass.
"Even though you've seen it before on tape, having Tim back there specifically, I think it opens up more pass opportunities than most Wildcat situations," Ryan said.
Until Monday, the Jets had used the Wildcat only once in practice, a goal-line drill in which Tebow ran up the middle for a touchdown. They didn't use it at all in their first preseason game, and it's unlikely they will show it Saturday night against the New York Giants.
The Jets believe the 250-pound Tebow, who added about 10 pounds in the offseason, can be one of their top weapons. Considering the lack of experienced skill-position talent, he could be an integral part of the offense.
"Well, this is the NFL, so it does help to have a little more size and speed," Tebow said.
The quarterbacks enjoyed a few laughs about their tight-lipped answers. When a reporter suggested to Sanchez that outspoken third-string quarterback Greg McElroy should be interviewed, Sanchez said, "We'll get a couple of clips on him and attach him to a car battery, and rev that thing if he gets squirrely."
2dESPN Stats & Information