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Bold Ryan sees Tebow as uniquely tough-to-defend Wildcat weapon

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Rex Ryan knows a lot more about tackling football players than he does throwing to them, which is why I'd pay attention when he talks about defending his latest acquisition -- and I think you know whom I'm talking about.

"There are three factors when making any decision," the Jets' head coach said of Tim Tebow, "and that's the team, the team, the team. We feel Tim is going to bring something to the team that's a benefit to us. He's a good football player, and that's what we wanted to have."

Notice he didn't say "good quarterback." He used that description for Mark Sanchez, his starter, which was Rex's way of saying that Sanchez shouldn't be threatened by Tebow's arrival.

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And he shouldn't.

Sanchez will take most of the snaps, and Tebow will be used off the bench to operate in whatever formations offensive coordinator Tony Sparano devises -- with the Wildcat the most logical. In fact, Ryan said he could see Tebow running it as much as 20 snaps per game, and I know what you're thinking.

It won't work.

First of all, defenses caught up to it, making someone like Ronnie Brown less effective than he was, oh, say, three years ago. Second, Tebow isn't Brad Smith, who was faster and quicker than the backup quarterback when he took snaps out of the Wildcat with the Jets.

But that's where Ryan came to Tebow's defense, and let him explain.

"It's 11-on-11 football," he said, "meaning you're going to have to defend the quarterback in the running game, which you really don't have to defend in any other run -- and which is why I don't think it really fizzled out. If you have a guy back there who can throw the football it makes it tough.

"Look at [Tebow's] playoff game against Pittsburgh: [The Steelers] went cover-zero [on the first play of overtime], and everyone's 'man' across the board. Fine. Drop back, boom and pump it in there. You've got 'man' coverage, so if you miss a tackle then it goes for a touchdown -- and that's exactly what happened.

"You might be able to stop the run because you have [your defenders] all down there, but that's going to leave you vulnerable on the outside. When we had Brad Smith he averaged 8 yards a carry back there. Was it really stopped? I don't know."

Of course, he does. It wasn't. In fact, Ryan joked that he once said there was only one offensive coordinator who could stop Smith and the Wildcat, and that was former Jets' offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. It wasn't a criticism; it was a compliment, an acknowledgement of how effective and productive Smith and the Wildcat were during Ryan's first two seasons as head coach.

"Now," said Ryan, "when you put in Tim Tebow, he's a guy who's actually a better inside runner than Brad. Brad was outstanding outside, really did a great job with the option and could throw the football. He really did a great job on the outside, but he wasn't necessarily the inside runner that Tim is.

"Tim runs the inside running game like a fullback. He can run the option. He can throw the football. He can throw on the perimeter. And, trust me, I don't think DBs want to tackle him. It's really a unique skill set that I thought we were fortunate to get. In that system, the Wildcat, he's the perfect guy for it -- not to mention that he's a guy I think will be ascending as a passer."

But it's not Tebow's passing that makes him attractive to the Jets. It's his running. The Jets want to return to the "Ground and Pound" attack that helped launch them ... and Sanchez ... to two conference championship games in two years, and hiring a backup quarterback who averaged 5.4 yards a carry and led his team with six rushing TDs should help.

I mean, if it worked with Smith ... and it did ... why can't it work with Tebow?

"Obviously," said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, "that guy has a skill set that levels the playing field in short-yardage and goal-line and situations like that. We're talking about a guy who can run the ball between the tackles and is capable of moving piles but, at the same time, is a legitimate quarterback. Situationally, that creates issues and problems."

And isn't that the idea? I don't know how Mark Sanchez views Tebow's arrival and, frankly, I don't care. What matters is what it does for the Jets, and Ryan is insistent it can and will make them a better team.

Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that few defended the Wildcat better than Ryan when he was Baltimore's defensive coordinator and the Ravens played Miami. And if he thinks it can work here and now, it's worth a try.

Critics complain that having Tebow sitting behind Sanchez puts too much heat on the starter, but please, people. This is New York. The guy's been under pressure from the minute the Jets drafted him. Plus, Tebow's supposed to be the Venus De Milo of quarterbacks, with his 46.5 completion percentage the evidence. So why should Sanchez feel pressure from someone who can't throw?

As I said, he shouldn't. Tebow has one job, and it's to run the Wildcat ... or whatever gadget offense Sparano invents ... as Smith once did. Only he will run it more. If that happens, it's not a problem for Sanchez; it's a problem for the Jets' opponents, and what's not to like about that?

"Trust me," Ryan said, "the difficulty lies with the defense because with the defense you have only one week to prepare for it. Every game we'll run it, but you have no idea how much we'll run it, when we can run it, what formation, all those types of things. It's going to be way tougher on the defense than it is on us.

"This is kind of a unique opportunity to make our team better. We're a team that's totally committed to finding a way to get better. We want what the Giants got. We want to win a Super Bowl, and we're going to do everything we can to build a better football team."

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