What does Tim Tebow have to do to make Patriots?

Doug Alden

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It has come to this for Tim Tebow: The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick already has lived up to what few expectations the New England Patriots had for him since signing him as a free agent in June.

Tebow is right where he is supposed to be — third on the depth chart and fighting to make the final roster. It’s almost comforting, especially after the tumult Tebow endured in one season with the New York Jets.

“He’s in a good spot. He’s in a good place for him,” Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells told USA TODAY Sports. “He has a great coach in Bill Belichick and he has the benefit of Bill having done things like this in the past.

“I think (Tebow) has some attributes that are difficult to see, and I respect those attributes. He’s accomplished a great deal in his football career. He really has. But he has to pass the ball better.”

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Ah, yes, the accuracy problem.

While his two exhibition games have been filled with some wild passes, Tebow has also shown signs of the combination of abilities that lifted him to starting for the Denver Broncos two years ago. As he looks to secure his place with the Patriots Thursday night when they play the Lions in Detroit, Tebow continues to block out the noise.

“I worry about what I can control, not listening to outside influences,” Tebow said. “It’s my attitude and my effort and getting better every day and just staying focused.”

In two preaseason games, Tebow has completed 5 of 19 passes for 54 yards, with one interception — horrible numbers for a quarterback by any standard. He played most of the second half Friday against Tampa Bay and completed 1 of 7 passes for minus-1 yard. But his ability to scramble is still there and he has run 10 times for 61 yards in two games.

That’s good enough that the Patriots aren’t talking about cutting Tebow just yet. Teams must trim their roster to 75 by Tuesday and to 53 by Aug. 31.

The Patriots have typically kept two quarterbacks, which in this case would be Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett, although Tebow is unlike most backups in that he can play special teams and fill other roles.

“All players have different skill sets and some guys do some things better than others. You have to look at the total package and what they’re able to do in all areas of the game,” coach Bill Belichick said when asked about Tebow. “I don’t think there’s one specific style you have to have or don’t have to have. In the end, it’s about production and being able to do enough things to be successful.”

Although expectations for Tebow in the NFL have never been high, the 26-year-old did lead the Broncos to the playoffs and a victory against Pittsburgh two seasons ago. From there, he has found it hard to get on the field, let alone find a home, with a awkward turn with the Jets that resulted in him getting cut in April.

It seemed his NFL career was in jeopardy before the Patriots threw him a line with a two-year contract in June. Third string to Brady was better than nothing, and there was even speculation Tebow he would be something other than a quarterback, especially with the loss of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was cut after being arrested and ultimately charged with murder, and Rob Gronkowski, whose immediate future is uncertain after forearm and back surgeries.

“The most humorous thing in all of the conversation about Tebow is, ‘Well, just move him to another position,'” Parcells said. “Like that’s some cinch, like just because you put him in there at tight end, he’ll be a tight end like Mark Bavaro. C’mon.”
So far, the Patriots have kept Tebow at quarterback, even though he has not shown the growth quarterback coach Steve Clarkson predicted after working with the left-hander in February.

“I don’t think it’s anything mechanically,” Clarkson told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s now in an NFL pro-style offense, it’s not the easiest system to learn. There’s a lot of moving parts in there, guys who are playing for jobs.

“I think people shouldn’t be too quick to judge one way or another based on what happens in preseason games. I think what he does in practice is more important. Based on what I’m seeing on TV, he’s been under duress on a few of those throws.”

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Tebow, who has also attracted supporters for his strong religious beliefs and charitable work, still has his fans.

They welcomed him in Philadelphia with a cheer when he made his Patriots debut on Aug. 9. That kind of greeting by itself is an accomplishment for ann Eagles player, let alone an opponent.

The cheer at Gillette Stadium was even louder last week when Tebow replaced Mallett in the third quarter against the Buccaneers. It was a short series as the Patriots went three-and-out, but Tebow showed on the next possession what has made him a threat to move the ball with or without throwing it.

With the pocket collapsing around him, Tebow took off for a 17-yard run. A holding call nullified the play, but late in a dull exhibition game, it counted enough for fans who caught a glimpse of what they wanted to see.

“It’s always great to have people that are so supportive of you,” he says. “Definitely, it feels good.”

Tim Tebow, signing autographs after practice, remains popular with fans.(Photo: Stew Milne, USA TODAY Sports)


Tebow was clearly one of the main attractions during open practices last week, when fans celebrated his every play no matter the result.

After practice one day, 7-year-old Ken Leary of Norwell, Mass., was running around in a No. 5 blue Patriots T-shirt with “TEBOW” on the back. Ken and brother Kevin, 9, were disappointed that they didn’t quite reach Tebow to add his signature to the autographs that covered their hats, but they were thrilled to have seen him play.

“I like him because he’s fast and he’s a quarterback,” Ken said. “And he throws pretty far.”

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Ken didn’t seem to notice, nor mind, where some of those “far” throws Tebow landed. Although there was some chatter against Tampa Bay as his passing went from erratic to something worse, Tebow smiled as he faced every question in the locker room and never showed a hint of discouragement.

“I’ve just to go out there and play as hard as I can, improve and get better,” Tebow said. “A lot smarter people grade us and judge us.”

As often as he cites his unwavering faith, Tebow was referencing Belichick and his staff, which includes offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. McDaniels was Denver’s coach when Tebow was a rookie drafted 25th overall out of Florida.

Tebow says there are similarities in what he learned under McDaniels in Denver, but there has been much more to learn with New England. And the Patriots seem to be showing patience, something he didn’t get last year during a painful season with the Jets.

“I’m hopeful that he”ll get the opportunity to stick and to continue to learn and get better,” Clarkson said. “If they give him that opportunity, I think he’ll prove down the road that it was worth it. I certainly think he can play in the NFL.”

Perhaps, but nobody in New England expects — nor wants — Tebow competing for the starting job with the Patriots. That was evident last week when Brady tweaked his knee during a scrimmage. It was a minor injury that prompted a major panic throughout New England.

If Brady was hurt, the Patriots may not be so patient to carry a third-string quarterback and bump Tebow up to No. 2 on the depth chart with what he’s shown so far. As long as the star QB is healthy, Tebow might be worth keeping around because of the wrinkle he can throw at a defense just by being in there.

The Patriots aren’t expecting Tebow to emulate Brady, just maybe pick up a few things and get his passes a little more on target.

“I think if you look at the entire week last week that it will look different than the game did,” Belichick said. “In some cases, the game looked better for some players. In some cases, the game didn’t maybe look as good as some things during the week. We’ll just have to try to take all that into consideration.”

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