COMMENTARY | Preseason games haven't started yet, but it's not too early to start thinking about how the presence of certain players on the roster could impact the New England Patriots this year. In particular, quarterback Tim Tebow could have a substantial impact if he earns a backup spot out of training camp.
Tebow signed a two-year deal this past offseason after spending two polarizing years with the Denver Broncos, and last season with the New York Jets, where he rarely got off the bench. The lefty comes to New England as a project, as only injury would unseat future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, the incumbent starter.
As Tebow's Patriots future is determined, it's important to consider the potential effect he would have on the team if he makes the roster.
Quarterback Pecking Order: Behind Brady, the other quarterback competing with Tebow is third-year man Ryan Mallett. The former third-round pick has a huge arm but is raw in many aspects of his game.
If Tebow does make the team, it would presumably be in addition to Mallett instead of in place of him.
Although the Patriots were shopping Mallett this offseason, he now represents an important insurance policy. Since the team's offense relies so heavily on the passing game, it's important to have a traditional pocket passer on the roster in case anything were to ever happen to Brady.
Word out of training camp is Tebow has experienced some troubles with his mechanics. That's not necessarily a reflection of his ability to make the team, but rather reinforcement that he is a long-term project. However, he could be a better fit as the No. 2 quarterback on the roster because of his ability to change things up in specific situations.
Mallett doesn't offer any different skill set than Brady, but Tebow does. His running ability makes him a candidate to run special play packages.
If Brady was out for any length of time, Mallett would make sense as the top backup. But from game to game, Tebow offers more upside.
Special Play Packages: It's likely that if Tebow makes the team, he will be used in some capacity other than just holding a clipboard. The Boston Herald's Jeff Howe reported he has been running a different offensive package than Brady and Mallett. These plays are designed to take advantage of his ability to run and execute option plays. Head coach Bill Belichick is known for his propensity for doing the unexpected, so occasionally trotting out Tebow to shake things up is a distinct possibility.
If his 2013 role did become defined this way, it could mean fewer goal-line touches for players like running back Stevan Ridley, who racked up 12 rushing touchdowns last year.
Tebow supporters may believe he has much more potential than being a gimmick player, but he won't have the opportunity to prove otherwise in New England -- at least not yet. Any progress will be measured in small steps, while taking advantage of what he can do well now. If he appears to have more room to grow, and shows signs of being able to help the team, he will be there when the final 53 names are announced.
Short Yardage Situations: Brady isn't the most mobile quarterback, but he has become known for his ability to sneak the ball up the middle for a yard or two when needed. While he has been very effective with that play, it may not be prudent to continue using him in that role now that he just turned 36.
The 25-year-old Tebow weighs in at 245 pounds and could be used in certain short-yardage situations to spare Brady's body. The veteran's sneaks up the middle are often on fourth down, and are not unexpected. If the Patriots are going to run the quarterback on such plays anyway, they might as well use a younger, more dispensable player to get those tougher yards.
Conclusion: Tebow may not start in New England, but he could have a huge impact if he makes the team as a backup. The Patriots succeed by taking advantage of and working around what their players do well. They signed the quarterback because of his potential, impact and the diversity he can bring to their offense and team -- even if he is spending most of his time on the bench.
In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Tim Tebow
- New England Patriots
- Tom Brady
- Ryan Mallett