Commentary

Will Tebow, Wildcat work for Jets?

What role will Tim Tebow play in the Jets' offense? Well, we're about to find out

Updated: September 8, 2012, 1:23 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

"Mark Sanchez is, has been and will be our starting quarterback. We're adding Tim to be our backup quarterback and to play in other roles and packages."
-- Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, March 21, on a late-night conference call with reporters

Since that fateful night in the offseason, when they rocked the sports world by trading for Tim Tebow, the Jets' plan hasn't changed one bit. Or so we think. No one knows what to expect because they didn't show any of those "packages" in the preseason, feeding the monster that has become the Wildcat mystique.

Finally, on Sunday, the Jets will unveil Tebow in a Wildcat-like role, ending months of anticipation. It all seems kind of ridiculous, how they kept it under wraps amid Nixonian paranoia, but, hey, the secrecy generated headlines -- and we all know how the Jets love the publicity.

Here, to enhance your viewing pleasure, is a guide to the Wildcat:

The definition: For months, we've been calling it the Wildcat (even Rex Ryan has been using that term), but it won't be a Wildcat offense in the truest sense.

By definition, the Wildcat is when a non-quarterback takes the snap. There will be times when Tebow is the quarterback -- i.e. when Sanchez is on the sideline. In those cases, Tebow probably will operate the read-option attack he used last season with the Denver Broncos, who didn't use a single Wildcat play.

When Tebow and Sanchez are on the field together -- and that will happen on occasion -- it's a true Wildcat. Got that?

For statistical purposes (we know how much everybody loves numbers), the ESPN video analysts will provide a postgame breakdown of Tebow's performance, detailing his production in various forms of the Wildcat. Naturally, we'll provide the intel to you.

Frequency: The buzz around the Jets' locker room all week was that Tebow could be utilized during about a dozen plays on offense. Obviously, that could change depending on the circumstances of the game. Tannenbaum all but confirmed the speculation Friday morning in a radio interview, saying he expects Sanchez will take 80 to 90 percent of the snaps for the season.

Quick math: Using last season's play count (1,030) as a guide, it breaks down to 6.5 to 13 plays per game for Tebow.

Tim Tebow
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesTim Tebow will make his Jets debut on Sunday against the Bills.

Situations: It'll be fascinating to see how offensive coordinator Tony Sparano decides to use Tebow. Many figure he'll use him in the red zone and in short-yardage situations, although it should be noted the Jets ranked Nos. 1 and 2 last season in those categories, respectively. But they struggled in both areas during the preseason, so it's possible they see Tebow as a spark.

It could get dicey for the Jets if they use Tebow to start a drive. In essence, that would be a shot at Sanchez, a blatant admission the offense needs a jump-start. Of course, Tebow is hardly a guaranteed cure-all. In his nine starts last season, the Broncos led the league with 50 three-and-out drives, nine more than any other team, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Where's Tim? For the fans at MetLife Stadium, it could be like a game of "Where's Waldo?" Excluding the offensive line, Tebow is capable of playing anywhere on offense.

We know he can run. We know he can throw (well, sometimes). And who knows if he can catch? The Buffalo Bills, who run their own version of the Wildcat, will have to be prepared for just about anything -- one of the reasons, of course, the Jets went all CIA in the preseason.

Tebow is gearing up for something, that's for sure. He was one of the last players off the practice field every day last week, walking into the locker room each day dripping with sweat. In the offseason, he added nearly 10 pounds, per the team's request, making him a rock-solid 250 pounds. It's about 25 pounds heavier than his college weight, prompting some to question whether it will hurt him as a runner.

Run Tim, Run: The Jets have let expectations get out of control, so now people think Tebow will be the quarterback version of Earl Campbell. Relax, folks. On 84 designed rushes last season, a league high, he averaged a pedestrian 4.3 yards per carry and five touchdowns.

Overall, Tebow ran for 660 yards, second to Cam Newton among quarterbacks. Only three quarterbacks since the 1970 merger have rushed for more yards than Tebow in their first two seasons.

Letting 'er rip: Let's be honest, the Wildcat went out of style a couple of years ago. Sparano had it going for a couple of years in Miami, but opponents figured it out. So why do the Jets think it can work with Tebow? Because the threat of the pass will put stress on the defense.

Despite his accuracy issues, Tebow is a quarterback, capable of hitting a long completion. Case in point: In the AFC wild-card game, he got no respect from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who often played "zero" coverage -- no deep safety. Tebow made them pay, becoming only the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have 300 passing yards, 50 rushing yards and no turnovers in a postseason game.

But it was a rarity for Tebow, who usually struggles with his accuracy. More than 31 percent of his passes last season were incomplete because of an over or underthrown pass, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No quarterback had a higher percentage of off-target incompletions.

Our conclusion: Can this crazy, two-quarterback system work? Obviously, Santonio Holmes doesn't think it can, as he expressed at the start of training camp. Actually, there is some history on the Jets' side.

Of the 46 teams that have won the Super Bowl, 25 had at least 2 different starting quarterbacks during the regular season. In fact, six Super Bowl champs used three different quarterbacks.

But let's not be naive. We're not operating in a vacuum here. This is New York, Tebow is one of the most popular athletes in America and the back pages are thirsting for a quarterback controversy. Everything would have to break right for this to work, and when has that ever happened for the Jets?

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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