We're (FINALLY!) only a few days away from the first preseason game of the season, which means the time for speculation and harebrained hypotheses is almost at an end. And while it's unlikely that we'll see too much of the starters this Friday when the Philadelphia Eagles host the New England Patriots, there have been enough camp storylines to make a game played almost entirely by backups plenty interesting.
And perhaps no storyline is going to get more attention over the next few days and beyond than what the Patriots do with Tim Tebow. A classic Belichick move would be to not play him at all on Friday, opting instead to give Ryan Mallett as many reps as possible and driving the media crazy, but at the same time Week 1 of the preseason is a great opportunity to see how certain players have progressed and experiment with different formations and schemes. So to not play Tebow at all this week isn't an overly effective use of time.
So...how will Belichick play Tebow over the next few weeks? What are some of the positions we could see him assume? Below are a few that I can possibly see happening, along with how likely I think it actually is.
Quarterback. How's that for brilliant analysis? Tim Tebow playing backup quarterback for the Patriots? That, my friends, is why they pay me the big bucks. Tebow is a quarterback first and foremost, and while reports on how he is adjusting to New England's offense have been mixed, he has shined at times and seems to be showing enough to the coaches that keeping three quarterbacks this year isn't out of the question.
Probability: High. Tebow isn't a lock to make the roster, but I think he has an excellent chance. There's also the possibility that the Patriots will be looking to trade Mallett midseason, which would shift Tebow into the 2nd QB role. He isn't accurate on the medium-range passes, but he throws a great deep ball and is always a threat to run with it.
Punt Protector. Not only does Tebow have the body type and strength to provide the necessary protection when getting punts out, but he is also a great option when running a fake; he can run, he can (kinda) throw, and he can read defensive formations. Fake punts are a rarity and a low probability play, but that doesn't mean the threat isn't there every single time with Tebow back there.
Probability: High. This is one of the few things the Jets did well during the Tebow era. He has already had a season of experience under his belt and is currently lining up with the punt team this year as well. It makes a lot of sense and I see no reason why the Patriots won't continue to do it.
Holder. Tim Tebow holding the ball for extra points and field goals is an intriguing possibility. Quarterbacks often serve as holders, so putting Tebow back there wouldn't be completely unorthodox, and doing so would represent a constant threat of a run or pass coming off the fake. I'd like to think that Tebow would be able to turn a 4th and 2 into a first down once or twice a season off a fake FG play.
Probability: Low. It may seem easy, but being a holder on extra points and field goals requires a tremendous amount of chemistry and trust with your kicker, and you can't simply throw anybody in there on a whim. Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko have clicked well over the years and have spent a lot of time getting their timing right. I can't see Tebow simply stepping in and assuming the role after just a few short weeks in camp and very little experience at the position. It may be something that the team works on for future seasons should Tebow hang around, but I don't see him usurping Mesko during the regular season. It would be nice to see him hold a couple snaps in August, though.
Fullback. Tebow has the size and the athleticism to step into a fullback role if necessary. His experience on the punt unit from last hear should help him nail down blocking assignments, and his time as QB can help him read defenses. The role of a traditional fullback isn't incredibly complicated compared to other positions; you get your blocking assignment and you make the play. Tebow can also carry the ball for a few yards on FB dive plays, and motioning him out wide represents a potential receiving threat.
Probability: Medium. I can definitely see specific packages where the team would benefit from having Tebow in the backfield as a potential lead blocker and dual running threat - short yardage plays, goal line scenarios, etc. Tebow and LeGarrette Blount could be a nice tandem on a Jumbo 3TE set on 3rd and 2, especially with Gronk and Sudfeld representing legit playaction threats.
Tight End. To be a tight end in the Patriots system, you have to be versatile. You have to have good size, speed, football intelligence, and be willing to line up pretty much anywhere. Tim Tebow fulfills all of those requirements.
Probability: Low. Being big and athletic doesn't automatically make you a tight end. There is a lot more to the position than that, and I personally don't see how Tebow can be an asset to the team taking reps away from Gronk, Hoo-man, or camp star Zach Sudfeld. They may line him up as a TE on a handful of plays strictly as a decoy, but the odds of him seeing significant time there are very slim. I really don't know how this rumor started and I will be very surprised if it has any legitimate legs.