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Original wildcat weapon Brown says Tebow could spark sputtering Jets

by | Senior NFL Columnist

Can Tim Tebow actually make the wildcat a weapon again? (Getty Images)  
Can Tim Tebow actually make the wildcat a weapon again? (Getty Images)  

SAN DIEGO -- The New York Jets haven't scored a touchdown in three preseason games, but, then again, they haven't wheeled out the wildcat, either. Yeah, I know, so what? Well, so look at it this way: How can the wildcat be any worse than what we've seen already from the Jets?

It can't. In fact, I know somebody who believes it can and will be an effective weapon again and who thinks it might just be in the right hands with the Jets and quarterback Tim Tebow.

I'm not talking about a coach or GM or talk-radio host. Nope, I'm talking about Ronnie Brown.

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Brown ran the wildcat when the Miami Dolphins first sprang it on New England and the NFL on Sept. 21, 2008, and he ran it so adroitly Miami not only clobbered the bewildered AFC East champs; Brown scored a career-high four times and threw for a fifth TD -- with all but one of those touchdowns out of the wildcat.

The scheme was an overnight success, with others rushing to copy it. But, eventually, it fell out of favor as defenses began to figure it out and offenses turned to spread formations, wide-open attacks and 4,000-yard passers.

The wildcat was supposed to be obsolete, only now the Jets are talking about recycling it, and Brown -- a running back with San Diego -- can see why. First, Tony Sparano is the offensive coordinator in New York, and Sparano was the head coach who rode the wildcat to the top of the AFC East in 2008. Then there's Tebow, who should be perfectly suited to running the wildcat -- with the emphasis on running. Last, there's the wildcat itself, a scheme Brown thinks can be effective again if used properly.

And with Sparano and Tebow together in New York, he thinks it can.

"When we first put in the wildcat," said Brown, "we put running backs in. Then you saw other teams evolve and put receivers back there. Now you have guys who played quarterback and throw the ball more, so it's an evolution process. It's a game of chess on the offensive side of the ball where we're trying to create mismatches to catch the defense off guard and where the defense is trying to do the same thing. So I think there's an opportunity for it.

"At the same time, everybody's got to be realistic about it. If you don't execute it and take care of business like you do on a normal play it's not going to work. I don't care what you've got going on out there.

"With the success we had in the first game (vs. New England), everybody kind of associated that with the wildcat formation, thinking that every play was going to be a big play or a touchdown. But that's not the way this game works. Defenses are always evolving and trying to put wrinkles in to try to catch offenses off guard, and so you try to show different things. It takes 11 guys doing things the right way and being on the same page, and, if you do that, definitely [it can work]."

The question, of course, is: Will it? The Jets had success with the wildcat when Brad Smith was running it in past years. A former college quarterback, Smith had speed to turn the corner or split the defense and the arm to throw into coverages that weren't there. In the 2009 season finale, for instance, a game the Jets had to win to make the playoffs, Smith stepped in as the wildcat quarterback six times in the first half, ran for 91 yards and a touchdown on three carries and helped push the Jets to a runaway victory.

The Jets see no reason they can't duplicate that success with Tebow, and neither does Brown. He knows Sparano. He watched Tebow. And he ran the wildcat.

"Sure, it can work," Brown said. "The success of the wildcat was a culmination of a lot of things. We had the coaching staff that believed in it. We had the players to believe in it. We had the element of surprise. We had the athletic ability. And we had a lot of different guys who bought into the system, working for a common goal.

"I think that's the way they're [the Jets] approaching it in New York. You've got a guy in Tim Tebow who's obviously capable of making plays. You combine that with a hungry football team, and it's hard to stop that. When you have confidence mixed with ability that's something that's hard to beat. I'm sure those guys are working hard. We'll just see what happens."

We've seen what happens when the Jets run a conventional offense this summer, and it's not much. They haven't scored a touchdown. What we haven't seen is what happens when they try Tebow in the wildcat or some version of it, and don't tell me it's not worth a shot; because anything at this point is.

"Look," said Brown, "I'm supportive of the game of football, and the more it evolves the more you make it better. That's what makes the game exciting: Seeing different things and seeing guys play different positions.

"When we were running it, it was a running back [who took the snaps]. I had never played quarterback before. And now it's evolved to where you have Tebow doing it and guys like Brad Smith, who actually played quarterback. It's all about adding extra elements."

"So," I asked Brown, "if you're the New York Jets, you think it's worth a whirl?"

He nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "I mean, they've got a quarterback. They say, 'This is our No. 1 quarterback [Mark Sanchez],' but you've got a guy on your team who has made plays; who has actually made plays on this level and been successful. So you give it a shot.

"If it doesn't work, [you tell yourself] we still have our No. 1 quarterback, we still have our receivers, we still have our running back, and we still have our base stuff. So why not? Why not give it a try?"


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