Monday, April 2, 2012

How the Jets should use Tebow


Grantland's Chris Brown recently argued that Tim Tebow's success as a Jet will require him to be a passing threat as much as a runner. Brown is adamant that there's minimal opportunity for Tebow as a Wildcat attacker, which at this early stage, seems the likely designation for New York's hottest recruit. He contends that in order for Tebow to find success in situational plays as the back-up quarterback, he needs some throwing options up his sleeve. In other words, he needs to be more than a Wildcat, or perhaps, a wildcard.

These are fair points, but I'm not sure I agree Tebow should be closer to a quarterback than a running back. Isn't it entirely possible that Tebow, a tank of a man at 6-foot-three and 236 pounds (the NFL's scariest runner is Adrian Peterson is 217 pounds), can be an effective football player without a positional label? Yes, last season he lined up as QB, and even threw some decent balls. But most of the time he succeeded as an old time halfback.

Part of the issue is that pro football's most prominent talking heads seem enamoured with the idea that football is overly complex. How often do we hear, after all, about the intricacies of play design, of elaborate assignments, and complexities of playbooks? The sentiment appears to be that if the majority can't comprehend it, then it's bordering on genius. It may well be true that the highest level of football calls for extreme focus, but at the end of the day, how ingenious is the art of deception or surprise on the sporting field? That's what it boils down to, and so to Brown's point, I can appreciate the need for Tebow to show a few things, but do some others. He can't simply run into the line after every snap, not unless he hopes to specialize in fourth and inches. But by the same token, maybe intermittent running plays is all the Jets require from Tebow.

Like the backs of a former era, Tebow is less conceptual in his approach to football: he sees a hole and he darts through it. He watches a defense lean one way, and heads the other. He's also less reliant on schemes and formations than is given credit for. For all the so-called gimmicks and gadgets that teams supposedly should employ for a player like Tebow, its the player himself who most often turns the sequence on its head and makes something happen. That's Tebow's forte - reacting! I'll concede that, sure, running backs or half backs, or "wild" backs need blocking and unbalanced formations, and the potential of several outlets or escape hatches, but they also dictate outcomes using their supreme speed, strength and vision. And in Tebow's case, an unparalleled will to succeed, too.

So, yes, the Jets will need to think through some options. They'll benefit from plays specific to Tebow's arsenal, and to pinpoint instances in which Tebow can bowl through, or around the defense, and possibly release the ball to a teammate, or even tuck it away and barge forward. But it'll be his thunderous running, and elusiveness, that'll make those plays work. And whether the defense suspects it or not, Tebow won't be denied yards. He'll additionally confuse defenses simply by being on the field. Why? Because he's such a rare and confounding specimen - a player who can throw it if forced to, but also change direction like a running back. And not just a run-of-the-mill back NFL defenses are accustomed to preparing for, like those boasting power only, or just quickness, but rather one with an array of skills, the way old-style footballers like Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs did almost 100 years ago.

No agenda, except crossing that goal line.

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