Tebow must produce or act will wear thin
Tim Tebow is nothing if not excited to be a New York Jet. That much was clear during his introductory press conference in front of a throng of New York media at the Jets’ training facility in Florham Park, N.J.
Erratic and unrestrained, the former Bronco, traded east for two draft picks and a couple million bucks last week after Denver signed future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, stood alone at a podium for nearly 35 minutes Monday, answering question after question with the unbridled enthusiasm of a kid visiting Disney World.
He leaned in and listened carefully to each new inquiry, treating each reporter as though they were his sole focus at that moment and each query as though it was the only thing on his mind. He smiled and laughed and graciously accepted multiple welcome-to-New-Yorks, responding to each with a sincere word of thanks. He praised God and talked about how eager he was to help in the community, and every word of it was believable.
Tebow was warm and genuine, just like he always is.
But as genuine as he was and will continue to be in the days and weeks and months ahead, it also became clear Monday that he genuinely has no idea what’s going on in New York or what the hell he’s doing there in the first place.
He has no idea why the Jets scheduled a press conference for the arrival of a well-liked, yet fundamentally suspect backup quarterback — one that led to Giants owner John Mara to chide his crosstown rival, saying they had also scheduled a press conference for backup quarterback David Carr.
He has no idea why his new team traded for him just days after signing the franchise quarterback they already have to a three-year extension. He has no idea how he fits into head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano’s offense. He has no idea what his role will be or what position he’ll even play.
He has no idea how fond Mark Sanchez really is of him — much less the rest of the Jets locker room, one which has seen some players anonymously speak out against him — and he has no idea what kind of success, if any, he can expect to have in a Jets uniform.
So with no real valuable answers or insight for the inquiring football minds both in attendance, Tebow, with the aw-shucks demeanor that many have grown to love and some have come to detest, elected to just be happy to be there and let all of the unknowns about his future in New York be someone else’s problem.
“I’m just going to be myself and just have fun with it and not worry about the things I can’t control,” Tebow said. “That’s something I learned early on at Florida is if you can’t control it, don’t worry about it. I’m going to try to be the best teammate, try to be the best football player that I can be and try to set a good example. Besides that, I’m really not going to worry about too much else.”
The questions about Tebow’s arrival in New York cover a vast array of topics, but most of them eventually boil down to three things: What position will he play, how much will he play there and how does Tebow’s arrival impact the already-shaky Sanchez?
Ryan indicated Sunday that the Jets would build a wildcat package for Tebow, giving him as many as 20 opportunities per game to see the field, but he also suggested that Tebow might not play quarterback at all, telling reporters, “Let’s not just look at him as a quarterback; I look at him as a football player.”
Tebow, realizing he doesn’t have much say in where he plays — especially under a headstrong coach like Ryan — seemed contentedly resigned to the idea of putting the team first even if it meant an unwanted change of positions.
“It’s my dream and it’s what I want to be, and it’s what I believe I am,” Tebow said of being a quarterback. “But however I can help the team, however I can make a difference, however they can use me, I’ll be open to it and work as hard as I can every time I step on the field. I will give my whole heart to being the best Jet I can possibly be and helping this team win football games.”
The New York fans, however, won’t be so easy to please, and the first time Sanchez throws a wobbly pick or the first time the Jets have back to back three-and-outs, the cries for change will rain down and rain down loudly from many of the Jets faithful.
Tebow, for his part, said he had spoken with Sanchez and had a great relationship with his new teammate — “From my conversations with him, he was excited, and he was excited about working with me, and I’m excited about working with him,” Tebow said — and he doesn’t expect any uncertainty over job security to drive a wedge between them.
“Mark is very secure as a football player and as a person and who he is, and I don’t think he’s going to let outsiders affect how he goes about his preparation or how he plays,” Tebow said. “I’m excited about my role here too and my opportunity to compete, and I think working together, we’ll be able to encourage one another and be stronger together than we are apart.”
But regardless of what Tebow says now, the buddy-buddy Sanchez-Tebow façade will eventually crumble under the weight of the New York fans’ heavy demands and the locker room will inevitably be forced to pick sides. The unavoidable hardship will put to the test the pride of both signal-callers, something Tebow would prefer not to address just yet.
Instead, he’d rather focus on the positives — or more accurately, the things he can control — for as long as he can. As such, it should come as no surprise that Tebow sounded most confident, most secure, most assertive and most sanguine Monday when he spoke about his off-the-field impact.
He spoke at length about his charitable efforts, saying he has a responsibility to be a good role model, and spoke candidly about his faith, which, in truth, may be one of the largest contributing factors to his success in the NFL to this point. Tebow is clearly a God-fearing guy, and it’s clear that that much will stay unchanged despite his change in locale.
“Obviously I’m someone that’s very outspoken about my faith, and I’ve never been ashamed of it,” Tebow said. “I’m pretty sure I’m not the first athlete that has gotten on a knee and prayed, but somehow it’s known as Tebowing and I’m not sure why. It probably had a little bit to do with the hype, but it’s not all a bad thing. If people are still somehow talking about prayer or talking about my faith, then I think that’s pretty cool.”
But the righteous act will wear off — not because it’s not genuine, but because no one up here cares to hear it when their team is losing.
The Jets and their fans care about football and they care about winning far more than they care about Tebow’s affable nature. And what is currently considered authentic about Tebow will soon become presumptuous and annoying if he doesn’t give them the results they desire — leaving Tebow himself in a deceptively undesirable position.
Tebow doesn’t know where he fits or even if he fits with the Jets. He doesn’t know who in the locker room has his back. He doesn’t know how many snaps he’ll take or at what position he’ll take them. A savior last season in Denver, he could end up being nothing more than a publicity stunt in New York.
But he’s excited for now, and he has to be — because at this point, he really has no other choice.
Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner