Just because Tim Tebow is built like a TE doesn't magically make him one

Can Tim Tebow salvage his career in New England? (USATSI)

Fourteen months after Rex Ryan proclaimed that "Tim Tebow is going to be a major contributor to our football team," the Jets released the backup quarterback and punt protector. On Monday, the Patriots reportedly signed the former Heisman Trophy winner.

So much for coach Bill Belichick hating the way Tebow plays the game.

(Worth noting: Belichick knows exactly what he's getting into; He's good friends with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who coached Tebow at Florida. And Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was the Broncos coach when Denver selected Tebow in the first round of the 2010 draft.)

Now the question becomes: Where does Tebow fit in the Pats' offense? His 2012 passing totals with the Jets -- 6 for 8 for 39 yards (23 of those yards came on a fake punt in Week 6) -- would indicate that quarterback might not be in his future. But CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman tweeted Monday that Tebow will have a hybrid role in New England -- he'll study both the quarterback and tight end positions.

Freeman's words echo those of  CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, who wrote shortly after Tebow was released by the Jets: "It's unlikely Tebow will garner much interest as a quarterback, but if he is willing to take on a fullback/H-back/tight end role, then his prospects of staying in the league would increase."

This reminded us of something Hall of Famer and former Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe, now a television analyst for CBS' NFL Today, told us back in August 2011 when Tebow was still Kyle Orton's backup in Denver and Tebowmania hadn't taken over the NFL.

We asked Sharpe about Tebow's prospects at positions other than quarterback, and essentially, it comes down to this: It's one thing to transition to wide receiver. It's something else entirely to try to play tight end or fullback.

"I'm sure [Buffalo Bills wide receiver] Brad Smith would love to play quarterback in the National Football League but that wasn't in the cards," Sharpe told CBSSports.com at the time. "He comes in to be a wildcat quarterback or occasionally take a snap here or there, but for the most part, he's earned his niche as a return guy and a receiver.

"And he's going to have a nice productive career, make a decent living, and he's going to be able to tell his kids that 'I played in the National Football League.' As opposed to, 'Yeah, I was quarterback and tried to play in the league and it didn't happen.' I think that's a better story -- 'I played 10-12 years in the National Football League' as opposed to saying 'Hey, I was a quarterback who wanted to play in the National Football League.'

We asked Sharpe if Tebow would be better off moving to tight end or H-back.

"It's a mindset," he said without hesitation. "I don't know if he has the mindset for that. I understand that if you play in the National Football League everybody's tough, but there are levels of toughness. And for a quarterback to think he's going to play something else -- especially one of those positions … now a quarterback can move to wide receiver, but to move to a fullback, H-back or tight end, that's a whole different mentality.

"Playing one of those positions is a mindset because you realize, for the most part, that the guy you're going up against is always bigger than you. I was always smaller than any linebacker I blocked, always smaller than any [defensive] end I blocked. But you have to have a mindset that says, 'OK, I have to get the job done.' So I don't know if he has the mindset to make that transition.

"But who knows. Maybe in [Tebow's] mind it's either quarterback or bust and he says, 'Well, if I can't play quarterback then that's it.' "

There have reports throughout Tebow's NFL career that he has no interest in playing anything but quarterback. Perhaps the realization that his NFL future hinges, in part, on giving up that dream made him to reconsider. The problem, as Sharpe pointed out a year and a half ago, is this: Just because you're built like a tight end or an H-back doesn't automatically make you one.

"That's the great part about the National Football League," Sharpe said at the time. "It's never based on who you know -- this is a bottom-line business: Can you or can't you play? And that's what Tim Tebow is finding out." 

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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