Expect Patriots to use Tim Tebow as more than QB

Les Carpenter
Yahoo! Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Entitlement never goes far with Bill Belichick. In an NFL where loyalty lasts about as long as a healthy time in the 40-yard dash, the New England Patriots' coach can seem unusually cruel the moment a player ceases to be useful. Once, he cut wide receiver Tiquan Underwood the night before Super Bowl XLVI because he wanted depth at a different position.

His explanation is always the same, delivered in a dry mumble empty of feeling, devoid of warmth.

"Best interests of the team," he says.

This is forever the Belichick way. Prove your worth or be gone. He doesn't do legacy projects. He doesn't add players to his roster for vanity. Some coaches like to tinker with quarterbacks, bringing them to training camp in hopes of working through flaws and buttressing their own reputations as football geniuses. Belichick doesn't suffer projects. He doesn't waste the time. Everyone must have a purpose that goes toward winning.

The Patriots played the 2012 season with only two quarterbacks on their roster. Both of those players, Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett, are still here. Neither is hurt. The Patriots didn't need a third quarterback. They didn't need Tim Tebow. This means Belichick believes Tebow is not just a third-string quarterback, but someone who has significant value.

If he only wanted an extra quarterback for training camp in an effort to rest Brady's arm, he could have picked dozens of men who are known as better passers than Tebow. If he wanted a scout-team quarterback, he had better options for emulating Peyton Manning or Joe Flacco. He didn't need Tebow and all that comes with Tebow unless he was certain that Tebow has a chance to make the Patriots better.

He will never reveal that plan, of course. As Patriots safety Kyle Arrington said Tuesday when asked about the times New England prepared to play against Tebow in the past: "That's classified."

When asked about Tebow at his Tuesday news conference, Belichick repeated the same mantra. He thinks the quarterback is talented, smart and works hard.

"I like Tim, I have a lot of respect for Tim," Belichick said.

Tuesday's minicamp offered few clues of Belichick's thinking other than to show Tebow's throwing has improved since leaving the New York Jets. His throws were crisper, harder and wobbled less than in the past. Yes, it was only minicamp where players don't wear pads but perhaps the spring work Tebow did with former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke has made him better. Weinke has talked a lot in recent weeks about Tebow's footwork, saying the quarterback needed to have better balance – not a throwing adjustment.

The Broncos had a similar belief, spending half an hour a day on the way he planted his feet before throwing. The Broncos coaches did this even during the great run of 2011, and noted his throws were becoming more accurate as the team raced to the AFC West title and a first-round victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But Tebow was traded to the Jets soon after and appeared to regress as New York had little idea what to do with him.

Tebow looked excited Tuesday as he ran through drills with the Patriots players. He gave a brief statement after practice saying he was looking forward to learning from Tom Brady. He appeared enthused to be working with Josh McDaniels, the coach who took him in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft.

And yet even if Tebow doesn't turn into a great thrower, he has the ability to fill a number of roles including lining up as a running back in goal-line situations or tight end or maybe even a receiver. He did, after all, lead the Broncos to a division title as a quarterback who ran a lot. He averaged more than five yards a carry in the two years he played for the Broncos, putting up 887 yards in 23 games. Nobody uses his roster more creatively than Belichick.

But just because Belichick seems to believe Tebow is worth a place on the Patriots' roster, there is no certainty he stays long. Tuesday's signing might be nothing more than a minicamp tryout, a chance for the Patriots' coaches to see if there is a way they can use him. He could be gone before training camp or he could be here for the next three years. One never knows with Belichick. Unlike most coaches, he doesn't keep a third quarterback on the roster just to have the security in case of injuries.

If Tebow lingers it's because Belichick believes he has something no other quarterback on the street can offer. Otherwise, he would be cut and the spot filled with a defensive back or a guard or a running back or whatever position Belichick needs to replenish.

He must see something the rest of the NFL does not. He must believe his new third-string quarterback is not just a quarterback but something bigger, something worth the trouble, something no one else will have. Because he wouldn't have him any other way.

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