Tebow’s chances of staying with Patriots uncertain

Tim Tebow walked off the practice field with no reporters

blocking his path to the locker room. Finally, a few strolled up

for a 90-second interview then moved on to longer chats with other

Patriots.

The media circus that surrounded him last season is gone.

His uncertain future remains.

Ten weeks into what could be his last shot at staying in the

NFL, Tebow seems to be on the roster bubble. He is simply trying to

make the team now, but has played poorly in two exhibition

games.

How poorly?

His passer rating was 0.0 – that’s zero-point-zero – in New

England’s 25-21 win over Tampa Bay last Friday night.

”You would definitely want to do better in some areas,” said

Tebow, the only quarterback the Patriots used in the second half

vs. the Buccaneers. ”Also, you have different things happen that

you just try to handle the best way you can.”

He completed just one of seven passes for a loss of one yard,

and had one interception on a badly overthrown pass. He was sacked

twice on his first nine plays. But the lefty who has trouble

reading defenses and zipping passes did what he does best, running

six times for 30 yards.

A week earlier, in his debut, he was a bit better – 4 for 12 for

55 yards with four runs for 31 yards in a 31-22 win over the

Philadelphia Eagles.

Numbers may not lie, but coach Bill Belichick sees a larger

truth. He watches Tebow at every practice, sees how diligently he

studies and how dedicated he is in the weight room.

And he sees some positive steps from the player traded by the

Denver Broncos and cut by the New York Jets in a span of 13

months.

”Yeah, definitely,” Belichick said. ”I think if you look at

the entire week last week, that it will look different than the

game did.”

Tebow could get another chance in the third preseason game on

Thursday night against the Lions in Detroit. That’ll be five days

before the mandatory roster cut to 75 players. The Patriots finish

the exhibition schedule Aug. 29 against the New York Giants. The

final cut to 53 comes two days later.

Tebow, as expected, says he’s not thinking about his prospects

of sticking around. Grasping the New England offense is difficult

enough.

”I just focus one day at a time,” he says, ”improving every

single practice.”

It’s not even an issue?

”Just getting ready for the practice,” he says with a

smile.

Belichick has been typically reticent. The Patriots signed Tebow

for a reason, of course, and though New England often carries just

two quarterbacks, the veteran coach is unfazed by preseason

results.

Asked last week if he plans to keep Tebow, if healthy, on the

53-man roster, Belichick said, ”That’s not anything that we’re

ready to talk about right now. A lot of competition out there.

We’ll see how it all plays out.”

There are some factors in Tebow’s favor.

He could be used as a punt protector, forcing opponents to play

for a fake on a direct snap. He could line up as a receiver, pose

as a decoy, or give Tom Brady a target for a quick pass to the

sideline that he can run with. He’s played only quarterback in

training camp drills, all open to the media, but could be used

elsewhere now that the practices are open for just a short time

period.

With Tom Brady having thrown all but 47 of the Patriots’ passes

the last four years and Ryan Mallett entrenched as the backup,

coaches may view Tebow as a project with plenty of time to work on

his quarterbacking skills without having to play in games.

And would the Patriots really keep a sixth defensive end or

sixth cornerback instead of him?

But then, there are the negatives.

The Patriots have kept just two quarterbacks in three of the

past four years. Tebow tends to scramble too soon, without

exhausting all options down the field. And when he does look down

there, finding his third or fourth receiving option has been a

problem.

And then, of course, some throws have been well out of the

receivers’ grasp.

But Belichick is known for utilizing a player’s strengths even

if he has glaring shortcomings. That’s the Patriot Way.

”All players have different skill sets and some guys do some

things better than others,” he said. ”I think we see a lot of

good quarterbacks in the NFL. They aren’t all maybe the best

passers, but their ability to run and pass and make plays – design

plays, scramble plays, whatever it is – makes them a high level

player. 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.”

Tebow had success in Denver. He threw the winning pass on the

first overtime play from scrimmage against Pittsburgh in the AFC

wild-card round, before losing to New England the next week.

He was a flop after the Broncos traded him to the Jets. New York

never figured out how to use him and released him last April

29.

From there, Tebow watched and waited. And just when it seemed no

team wanted him, the Patriots gave him a non-guaranteed contract on

June 10.

But soon, Tebow may be looking for work … again.

”I’ve just got to go out there and play as hard as I can and

try to improve,” he said. ”And I’ll let a lot of smarter people

grade us and judge us.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org