New England may be best place to right Tebow

New England may be best place to right Tebow
June 11, 2013, 12:15 am
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By 7 p.m. Monday night, I’d been asked by 10 different outlets to weigh in on the Patriots imminent signing of Tim Tebow. And they kept coming after that.
 
It’s damn sure not about me. And it’s not necessarily about Tebow, either. It’s about content and Tim Tebow is the alpha and omega of content. From his looks to his faith to his leadership to whether he’ll ever be able to throw overhand, Tebow news in June can trump the Stanley Cup and the NBA Finals when it comes to generating conversation.
 
He is the last man in on a 90-man roster. A player nobody else in the league wanted until the Patriots flipped him a lifeline. Doesn’t matter. He’s good for business whether that business is journalism, professional sports or entertainment. Or the soupy goulash that all three of those are mixed into and spooned into our gaping maw.
 
So here’s the soupy goulash as it pertains to Tebow. What makes sense and what doesn’t and what role he can fill here.
 
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This seems like a mercy signing to me. When Bill Belichick doles out praise for players, he’ll often say, “Football is important to him.” Football is clearly important to Tebow and -- now that Tebow’s got no place else to go -- the Patriots are throwing him a life preserver. Why? Probably dates back to Tebow’s time at Florida when Belichick was spending time trolling the Gators roster for talent and developing an appreciation for what Urban Meyer built there and the player around whom he built a lot of it, Tebow. At this time of year, rosters are at 90 players. One roster spot spent on a guy like Tebow is no skin off the Patriots’ noses. Josh McDaniels spent a first-round pick on Tebow when McDaniels was head coach in Denver and the Patriots offensive coordinator has shown he has enough pull to sell Belichick on signing his former players (Brandon Lloyd, Michael Hoomanawanui, Danny Amendola, Daniel Fells, etc). They like the kid. They gave him a chance.
 
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Given the media bonfire around Tebow that raged out of control in New York last year when the Jets signed Tebow, there could be a little bit of “Lemme show you how you snuff a media circus . . .” to the signing. Tebow isn’t going to be conducting weekly press conferences, much less press briefings on how well he handed off to the rookie running backs during the morning practice. If he makes the team -- and that’s a large “if” -- he’ll be seen as often as Bigfoot in the locker room.
 
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Which doesn’t mean the Patriots can’t find an upside when it comes to the media and Tebow. How often do you think Rob Gronkowski’s arm and back, Aaron Hernandez’ shoulder and Tom Brady’s getting used to new receivers will be discussed this week during minicamp? Right. Not much. Tebow is chum in the water for the media, a distraction for us, the easily distracted.
 
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But what on-field relevance does he have? That’s harder to figure. The Patriots run a precision offense based on timing between quarterback and receiver and post-snap reads that are as sophisticated as any in the league. Tebow isn’t accurate. In 23 games with the Broncos, Tebow completed 47.3 percent of his passes. He hit the sideline heaters right between the numbers with alarming regularity. And he doesn’t retain information well. An excellent piece by ESPN’s David Fleming last month included this information.
 
When the Broncos defense was on the field, offensive coaches would often tell Tebow the first series of plays they wanted to run when the team got the ball back. Tebow would nod, and they'd separate. And then, invariably, a short while later he'd ask for the information again. Sometimes this ritual would repeat right up until Tebow had to duck into the huddle and call the play. As a result, despite starting only 11 games in 2011, Tebow was flagged for delay of game an NFL-high seven times. Worse still was the fact that, according to scouts, Tebow almost never audibled because he struggled to quickly and properly read defenses. And of all the deadly sins Tebow committed against quarterbacking, this was the worst: lacking the self-awareness to recognize and fix these shortcomings.
 
The Patriots provide Tebow the safest haven to become a quarterback again because they’ll snuff out the accompanying firestorm by making him scarce. But they are the worst system for him to try and acclimate himself to -- even if McDaniels thinks he’s going to lay hands on him and turn him into a quarterback who can run anything other than an offense that acknowledges Tebow’s limitations.
 
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There’s an anecdote about Bill Belichick once saying to his scouts, “Stop telling me what players can’t do. Tell me what they can do.” The Patriots labor to find the skills of players on their roster and put them in positions to succeed. As we pointed out, throwing with precision isn’t something Tebow can do. What can he do? He can run with the ball. Legitimately and without caveat. But a running quarterback who can’t really throw isn’t a real dual-threat, is he? So can Tebow carve a spot as a short-yardage running back who -- when on the field -- carries the idle threat of motioning under center and flipping a ridiculous jump pass to Aaron Hernandez at the goal line? Maybe. Again, I’m just spitballing here. But unless I’ve completely misjudged what I’ve watched over the last 13 seasons, the Patriots are at their best when Tom Brady is taking the snaps. And having him take one fewer snap for a gadget guy to come in and run the wishbone flies in the face of what they’ve been about. So Tebow’s relevance will come in his versatility -- which is as yet unrevealed -- as a running back/pass catcher/threat.
 
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It will be an uphill climb for Tebow to make himself relevant enough to this team to earn a roster spot. He’s been dismissed and discounted before and opened some eyes by force of will and good fortune. And the Patriots will give him a chance to see what he can do. This the best spot for Tebow to come and get his football life in order. It’s also the only spot available.