It's been exactly seven weeks since the Tim Tebow signed in New England, and no one seems certain what role he’ll play. The Patriots ad infinitum/nauseum mantra is that they’ll do what’s best for the team. And confidential sources simply say that Tebow will be a quarterback and nothing more.
However, if you pay close attention to training camp, the Patriots’ plans for Tebow come into focus. After all, what other quarterback in camp catches passes with the receivers? Or works on non-fumbling drills with the running backs? Or lines up at tight end with the first team offense?
Tebow has done all three of those things, in addition to practicing quarterback with the first-, second-, and third-team offenses. And when you combine Tebow’s participation in these drills with a thin tight end corps, head coach Bill Belichick’s love of offensive innovation, and the experimental nature of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, it’s clear what is coming. Tebow will be the first Wildcat quarterback in Patriots history.
This shouldn’t come as a total surprise. It was one of the first ideas posted when the Tebow-to-New-England reports first surfaced. And last year, I wrote that the Jets should acquire Tebow precisely for the Wildcat, to bring back a dimension lacking since Brad Smith left New York City for the upstate Buffalo Bills (http://www.footballnation.com/content/tim-tebow-mania-three-reasons-jets-need-tebow/14030/).
However, what the Patriots will do that the Jets did not, is employ the Wildcat as a surprise. With the Jets, Tebow never became a running or receiving threat in the regular offense. So when he entered the huddle, the opposing defense knew it was either a decoy or a Wildcat play. That is why the experiment failed in New York.
So Tebow will spend the next 40 days (and 40 nights?) with the Patriots working to become an acceptable tight end or running back in time for opening day (September 8). And once defenses get used to him as a back or receiver, he can move into and out of the quarterback position when the defensive personnel dictates a favorable matchup. And the fact that defenses don’t know if/when it’s coming will make the Wildcat vastly more effective in New England than it was in New York. (And superior offensive players will help, too.)
In the end, Tebow’s traditional quarterbacking skills won’t likely keep him on the team. But if he can provide Belichick’s coveted versatility, the Patriots offense will have yet another wrinkle that every team will have to prepare for. That alone is reason enough to have Tebow on the roster. And who knows, someday he might be a decent backup quarterback, too.