The Tim Tebow dilemma lives on in New England.
When fellow NESN.com NFL editor Doug Kyed and I recently sat down to do our mid-training camp 53-man roster projection, we both struggled with the idea of what to do with Tebow.
On the one hand, he possesses a unique skill set, works extremely hard and is a very positive presence in the locker room. On the other hand, the benefit of keeping him on as a third quarterback would be debatable, considering his likelihood of seeing playing time behind Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett is miniscule at best, and it would cost a more practical player, maybe like Kamar Aiken or Jake Bequette, a roster spot.
Bill Belichick is not usually one for keeping players who can’t make an immediate impact on the field, but he might make an exception for Tebow.
It’s not that Tebow has been stellar in practices so far or even proved that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL again, because he hasn’t. He does bring a different set of talents than Brady or Mallett, however, namely his ability to run the read-option, which many defenses, including the Patriots, tend to struggle defending.
The read-option gave defenses fits in 2012, as Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson passed or ran their way through the NFL, starting something of an offensive revolution. Tebow ran a similar style offense in Denver in 2011, leading the Broncos’ league-best rushing offense and helping them clinch a spot in the AFC divisional playoffs. The success was short-lived, as he was traded to the Jets to be a backup, but that doesn’t discount his ability to run the offense.
Tebow may never be the efficient passer that Kaepernick, Griffin or Wilson proved to be last season, but he has shown that he’s more than capable of successfully running an option-style attack — something the Patriots have already taken advantage of, to an extent.
The Patriots have used Tebow in read-option sets on multiple occasions during training camp. Most of those reps have come in low-speed, non-contact drills before practice really gets underway, but there has been some show of it during 11-on-11 team drills as well.
The chances that Tebow will ever replace Brady on the field to run one of these “gadget” plays is probably about the same as Rob Gronkowski starting at tight end in Week 1 — that’s to say, not good. So, you may ask, why even bother with it?
Well, the offense isn’t the only group that can benefit from running an option package in practice.
The Patriots’ defense will face at the very least one read-option quarterback in 2013, when they visit Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Week 11. There’s also the chance, depending upon how the Buffalo Bills’ quarterback battle plays out, that they’ll face another in E.J. Manuel come Week 1 and again in Week 17 — not to mention the expected copycats who will develop their own versions this season as well. The experience of going up against Tebow, who would likely run the scout team offense in those weeks, could be invaluable for the Patriots’ defense.
Vince Wilfork has already seen the benefits of having Tebow on the roster, and he expects even more from Tebow as the season progresses.
“He brings a whole different aspect to the game for us,” Wilfork said. “Being able to play against a guy who can run that type of offense is a plus for this team. [It’s] not just Tim being here, but it’s a plus for this defense because we have to be able to stop some teams that come out and do that to us. He gives us great looks and I’m sure he’ll give us even better looks when we get settled into things in the season.”
Tebow is by no means a roster lock. There are plenty of deserving players vying to be one of the final 53, but from the sounds of Wilfork and even Brady last week, Tebow has been a good addition to the team so far. His impact on the offense alone won’t be enough to land him a place on the roster come Sept. 1, but combine that with his benefit on the defense and Tebow becomes a much more valuable asset.
Don’t expect “Tebow time” to hit the field at Gillette Stadium anytime this season, or for him to overtake Mallett as the Patriots’ No. 2 quarterback anytime soon. Even with the obvious drawbacks, though, the advantage of keeping Tebow around is just too much to abandon.