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The Tebow Incident

If there’s one thing about pro sports today that drives me nuts it’s this: Few people try new things. I mean try REALLY new things. Crazy things. Wild things. Improbable things. Everyone plays it relatively safe. Everyone colors, more or less, within the lines.

I remember thinking this clearly a few years ago when Randy Moss came into the NFL. Do you remember what a miracle Moss was those first couple of years? Nobody could cover him. He was bigger than anybody you could cover him with. He was faster than anybody you could cover him with. He could jump higher than anyone you could cover him with. And if he had a step on you, there was no way anyone could catch him.

Do you remember? Moss caught 17 touchdown passes that year, a rookie record, one that I suspect will stand for a long time. That Vikings offense was one of the best in NFL history, with Moss and Cris Carter and Robert Smith and the rejuvenated Randall Cunningham. That team went 15-1 and, you will recall, lost perhaps the most heartbreaking game in the team history of heartbreak, that NFC title game against Atlanta. That was an amazing offense.

But here was the thing: It was still, more or less, a conventional offense. And Moss was so good, I thought they could have been more.
See, at some point during the season, I wondered why the Vikings didn’t simply throw bombs to Randy Moss, you know, 25 times a game. I mean that offense was innovative, by NFL standards. But it wasn’t INNOVATIVE by, you know, imagination standards. Moss was unlike any player any of us had ever seen.* I couldn’t understand why the Vikings wouldn’t just have all kinds of fun with him. Throw bombs to him on 12 straight plays. Put the Hail Mary play into your every-down package. Force teams to triple-team him, quadrupole-team him, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, the guy was like Gulliver, you could have put all 11 Lilliputians on him and he would have found a way to get the ball. Plus, Cris Carter would be standing there all alone.

*I’ve written this little story before, but it’s always worth reliving. In 2003 the Kansas City Chiefs started 9-0 despite having a spectacularly awful defense. That’s how good their offense was. Well, after improving their record to 12-2 they went up to Minnesota to face a Vikings team that was really a shell of that awesome 1998 team. But they still had Randy Moss, who was still impossible to cover when he felt like it. That day he felt like it.

And it led to perhaps my favorite play in NFL history. The Vikings had the ball on the Chiefs’ 21, and Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper went to the line. At this point, the Chiefs decided to show blitz approximately three hours before the snap. Seriously, it was as if they had sent a wire to Culpepper before the play.

And it wasn’t just any kind of blitz. It was a corner blitz. And the cornerback the Chiefs decided to send? Yep: The guy standing in front of Randy Moss. Culpepper stepped back, he was confused. He was not confused the way he would be later in his career, after Chardon Jimmy and I drafted him first in our fantasy football league and he found new and exciting ways to throw interceptions. No, he was confused because he decided that this had to be some kind of strange trap, you know, blitzing with the defender who was in front of Randy Moss. The Vikings did not even seem to have an audible for a defensive maneuver this stupid, so Culpepper improvised and went into a sort of game of charades audible that could be translated like this:

1. Culpepper points at Moss: “HEY RANDY! HEY! RANDY! OVER HERE!”
2. Culpepper points at defender in front of Moss: “THAT GUY IS BLITZING! YEAH! THAT GUY! I KNOW, RIGHT? I CANNOT BELIEVE IT EITHER!”
3. Culpepper points to end zone: “RANDY. YOU RUN TO THE END ZONE.”
4. Culpepper throws invisible ball: “I WILL THROW IT TO YOU FOR A TOUCHDOWN.”
5. Culpepper shakes his head sadly: “I KNOW! I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT EITHER.” 

The Chiefs defenders — keenly sensing that something was brewing — stayed in the blitz. Culpepper took three steps back, and threw downfield to Moss for a touchdown. It was awe-inspiring.

I wish teams — especially teams going nowhere — would just try experimental, creative, wild stuff. Why not? Oh, we know why not: embarrassment. Everyone’s worried that if they try something too crazy, it will come off like the jazz odyssey in “Spinal Tap Mach 2.” It will come off like Ted Turner managing the Braves for a day. It will come off like the Cubs “College of Coaches” where they had coaches rotate as managers every few weeks.

Yeah, that College of Coaches was a dumb idea. And it was also awesome. Why not? If it doesn’t work, so what, the Cubs were dreadful anyway. But if it DOES work, holy cow, you have a place in sports history. And sometimes these crazy ideas really do work. The Royals Baseball Academy got the team eight-time Gold Glove winner Frank White. Frank Chirkinian’s decision to put a camera in the Goodyear Blimp essentially created golf coverage as we know it. Roone Arledge’s decision to put Howard Cosell in the booth created Monday Night Football as we know it. Michael Chang’s underhand serve unmasked Ivan Lendl at the French Open. And so on.

The overall point here is that if I owned a terrible NFL team, I would get Tim Tebow and invent a whole new pro offense around him.

There isn’t anything new to say about Tim Tebow. Everyone has marked their territory on the guy, including numerous unnamed Jets’ players. He cannot be an NFL quarterback as we have imagined them.  You’ve seen the movie Kung Fu Panda, right? In the movie, Jack Black’s Panda is basically useless as a fighter. At some point, his teacher says: “When you focus on Kung Fu, when you concentrate … you stink.” That’s Tim Tebow as quarterback. Basically, he stinks at throwing.

But, then the teacher realizes that Po the panda loves to eat, and so he comes up with an amusing but cool training strategy. And I can’t help but wonder: What if someone completely reimagined the quarterback position? There has never been anyone quite like Tim Tebow. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s driven. He’s smart. He’s virtually indestructible, or so it seems. And he’s a force of nature. To me, it seems the guy could be a weapon unlike anything the NFL has ever seen. One play he’s the quarterback. The next he’s the halfback. The next he’s the fullback. The next he’s the wildcat. The next he’s the tight end. You could line him up in the single wing, the wishbone or the I. You could line him up at receiver, where he could be a dual threat (love the double pass!), or you put him in the slot, where he could probably be a Gronkowski type if given the chance.

Now, admittedly, New York is probably not the place to try and invent the Swiss Army Knife Tebow Offense because the media is all-encompassing, and every stumble would be portrayed as the end of the world as we know it. Anyway, it’s pretty clear that the players aren’t on board. The Jets, I suspect, are doomed to a season of utter mediocrity with their orthodox quarterback, Mark Sanchez, playing sheltered football in weeks that are sometimes good and sometimes bad.

But there are a lot of terrible teams out there. They are not only terrible in record, they are simply terrible — uninteresting, uninspiring, underperforming, underwhelming. Are you telling me that some of these coaches — men who have spent their lives studying this game — could not invent a whole new offense, some kind of super-mixture of old and new, traditional and futuristic, to feature a 6-foot-2, 240-pound athlete who can run, catch (we assume), throw (at least in this setting) and play at least five different positions?

Maybe it wouldn’t work. Maybe it would be an embarrassing bust. But maybe not. And anyway, what do some of these teams have to lose? It seems like everybody in the NFL runs, more or less, the same stuff. Every now and again there will be a blip of innovation, and if it is successful then everyone will copy it.

But mostly it feels — not only in the NFL, but across sports — like there’s a paralyzing fear of trying something really different. And I don’t get it. The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the worst teams I have ever seen … but hey, they’re conventional! The Jacksonville Jaguars are both spectacularly bad and heartily ignored … but they’re doing the same stuff as everybody else! The Carolina Panthers have Cam Newton — CAM FREAKING NEWTON — at quarterback, and they run an offense so bland, doctors recommend you don’t listen to games while operating heavy machinery.

I would love to invent an amazing, crazy, wild and inspired offense for Tim Tebow … and I’m not even a football coach, I’m talking about just doing it for Madden 2013. There have to be real coaches out there who would be able to come up with amazing ways to use the guy, to roll him left and right, to start him behind the center, then move him to H-Back, then move him to tight end, then have him throw on the end-around… with him the possibilities really are endless. It could be awesome. And it could be disastrous. It could earth-shattering. And it could be a colossal megaflop. That’s what’s so exciting about it.

When I hear people say, “Tebow cannot be a quarterback in the NFL,” I agree wholeheartedly. He can’t, no way, not how the quarterback position is currently constructed. But I really believe that he could be something different. I think that, in the end, is the big reason why he still fascinates people. It isn’t just his lack of throwing ability — there are a lot of guys who can’t throw. It isn’t that he was a great college quarterback — lots of great college quarterbacks flop in the NFL. It isn’t just his faith, either — there are many players across sports who build their lives around their faith.

Yes, I think it’s all of that, but it’s something else too. There’s the gnawing feeling that Tim Tebow could be something new, something amazing, something cooler than anything we’ve seen. And, like I say, this is one thing about sports today that drives me crazy. I suspect nobody will ever try it.

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54 Responses to The Tebow Incident

  1. Grulg says:

    I think that he’d work in a place like Jax, why he isn’t there—I Think he blocked a trade to the Jags, didn’t he? Elway had seen enough and was glad to trade up to Peyton.

  2. polemicedda says:

    I wish I could see what offense Mike Leach could design around Tebow.

  3. I’ve wondered about some sort of 2 QB offense with Tebow and someone like Vick, where they are both on the field most of the time. I’m not a football guy, primarily, so that is probably monumentally stupid. But that’s sort of what I thought of.

    • Rob Smith says:

      What the NFL needs sometimes is someone outside to make these types of observations in hopes that someone might try something new. The NFL is horribly inbred. Denver actually did let Tebow do his thing last year, and it was successful. The only issue was that Denver wasn’t a bad team, so winning a playoff game wasn’t a huge thrill. They saw themselves as a Super Bowl team. But yeah, Jacksonville, KC, lots of places. Why not?

  4. mdwannabe says:

    if only you were a nfl coach joe, you could show all these shmucks just how terrible they are. just like the millions of other of brilliant nfl minds that post on the internet. it’s too bad that they somehow get the worst of the worst to be head coach, gm, assistant coaches, etc. it’s really to bad that nobody thinks of these brilliant ideas in the 5 minutes you spent thinking up this scheme, when thousands of people involved in the nfl are paid to only think about the nfl. weird isn’t it?

    • mdwannabe says:

      not to mention the hours spend behind the scenes, in practices etc. where nothing new is tried out.

    • Unknown says:

      Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. That is all

    • Nick says:

      I hear what you’re saying, but this is a league where coaches still punt in enemy territory on 4th despite it being proven beyond a reasonable doubt that doing so drastically decreases their chance of winning.

    • Patrick says:

      I think you are partially missing the point. The point is not that Joe figured it out and why won’t all these idiots listen to him. The point is that all of the experts and coaches are more interested in preserving their status as experts (by clinging to conventional wisdom) than they are in trying something new. It might work, it might not, but lets try something.

    • mdwannabe says:

      then you missed my point, joe has no idea if this is true or not, he looks at a finished product but has no idea of the behind the scenes preparation that goes into this. and it’s highly presumptuous that someone pontificating after thinking about tebow for a few minutes assumes that an entire league of people who think about the nfl only can’t come up with these unique ideas. i didnt care to analyze every point he made, but joe has a lot of questionable assumptions. (1) is it really smart to design a whole new offense for dozens of players because you have one questionably special player. and if that player gets hurt? then what? (2) is tebow really all that special in terms of skills he offers. (3) does joe actually have evidence that the jets or broncos have not tried fairly unique ways to get tebow involved or does he just assume this by watching a couple minutes of nfl games once a week. how does he know this hasn’t been tried and failed. i mean i can go on and on, but this is just in a few minutes in thinking about joe’s post. it lacks any sort of depth or insight and sounds like one of my casual nfl fans mouthing off at the bar.

    • mdwannabe says:

      hey nick, i get that point more than i do joe’s, at least if you make that argument you can use stats to talk insightfully about something, even in those cases it might not be so easy for a coach to implement. joe’s argument to demonstrate lack of innovation is so absurd though.

    • That was a pretty sick burn, mdwannabe, you should post 10 or 12 more times to make sure that everyone saw it, you attention-starved dickcruft.

    • David says:

      Ultimately innovation is an achievement of institutional courage, not intellect.

      The last really different idea in football was probably the Run & Shoot, nearly 25 years ago. Mouse Davis was hired by the Lions and achieved incredible success, getting to the NFC Finals in 1991 with Erik Kramer at QB and a former IBM salesman (Richard Johnson) as his top receiver. But that wasn’t enough for the head coach, who probably felt his job was threatened. It wasn’t enough for the GM. So instead of trying to build on what they had, they were soon hybridizing it and eventually scrapping it. The Lions haven’t been close to that level since.

      Point is, as soon as defenses started countering by packing the box, leadership capitulated. I think they felt uncomfortable when it was said publicly that the Run & Shoot had been “solved.” But what notable inventor ever let that kind of talk stop them? Courage is the rarest innovation of all.

  5. Josh says:

    As long as teams keep punting on 4th down, football will continue to be the sport for the unimaginative.

    • Nick O says:

      Hasn’t it gotten a lot better though? I mean, there are still the Ron Riveras and Pat Schurmurs of the world, but the elite coaches like Belichick, Tomlin, Harbaugh, and Carroll generally reasonably approximate what the math would dictate. I feel like you see a lot fewer 4th-and-4 punts from the 43 than you used to.

    • drunyon says:

      Why is Tomlin in that list? Have you seen this guy coach? Tomlin does make a few un-conservative decisions on occasion, but by and large he’s one of the most conservative coaches in the NFL. I’d imagine if you created a list of “most punts in opposition territory over the past 5 years”, he’d be near the top.

    • Nick O says:

      Tomlin isn’t a Belichick or Carroll, but I think he’s certainly more aggressive than average. And in terms of trying new things more generally I think he’s one of the better coaches. He’ll often run on third-and-short, a strategy that’s been shown to be underutilized, and has often used surprise onside kicks and rookie starters more often than most coaches.

  6. Zach says:

    I think there a couple of flaws with this idea.

    First, it assumes that Tebow is a dominant NFL athlete. There isn’t really much evidence to this point. Sure, he dominated in college, but so far he’s failed to be the kind of transcendent talent he would need to be for this sort of approach to work (e.g. he’s no late 90s Randy Moss).

    Second, with the size, strength, and speed of today’s NFL defenses, I’m not sure you could survive with an offense that didn’t regularly force teams to defend large sections of the field. This means not only being able to throw the ball down the field (which Tebow can do), but to the outer edges as well (which, so far, he can’t). Otherwise, you’re simply packing way too many players into a tight area, which means that running room will be very hard to find.

    Third, even if you concede that Tebow is a transcendent offensive force and that his abilities are such that he’d be able to create running room even with a crowded box, the biggest danger in building a unique offense around a unique talent is that you’re doomed if they get hurt. What happens if Tebow breaks a leg? It’s hard to imagine being able to totally change your offense on the fly, in part because the kinds of complimentary players you’d be targeting would be far less effective in a conventional offense.

    I love the idea of innovation, and I’m not saying it couldn’t work, I just don’t think Tebow is the guy to try it with.

    • Unknown says:

      Thanks! Part of the point I was trying to make below is that there’s really no evidence Tebow is that dominant physically. Sure, he’s 6’2”, 240, and pretty fast, but doesn’t that describe just about every linebacker in the league these days?

    • nightfly says:

      It describes a lot of linebackers… but it doesn’t describe a lot of quarterbacks, and I think that’s what Joe is thinking. Force the defense to think a little, to not simply react on learned instinct. Meet them with an athlete who can (theoretically) match their speed and strength. And if you can spring him into the secondary, he’ll run right over many of the DBs in the league. You’d need a coach willing to try it, that’s all.

      Contrary to certain assertions higher up in the thread, it’s not a matter of “Oh that won’t work and NFL coaches already know it, that’s why they’re coaches and we’re know-it-all fans and columnists.” That’s a great way to avoid having the discussion. But the truth is, NFL head coaches prove every week that they’re not always that bright about play-calling, clock management, personnel, etc etc. It’s a hard job. They do get things wrong. So to just pretend they already know better merely by virtue of their job title is false.

      What they all have in common is the willingness to work insane hours, never see their families, be consumed with football, and make their job their lord and master. And when that happens, innovating and failing means losing the job you’ve damn near sold your soul to get, uprooting what life you have and starting over in another city – or perhaps never getting to the top of the profession ever again. That means no innovation unless you’ve got nothing to lose. If you’re already two-thirds out the door or such an institution that you can’t be fired short of an act of Congress, then you unleash a dual-QB system where one might go into motion at any time, or hand it off to the other one – option passes, throwbacks, play-action passes that turn into QB draws and naked bootlegs… And I do think that a majority of the package can be “standard” plays, such that if one of the QBs is injured, you can still run most of your base offense and hang in there. Truth is, if a great “standard” QB gets hurt, the team’s in the lurch just the same, so why not innovate? Why not run a unique offense that will give defenses matchup and scheme trouble even if you’re down a starter?

    • Rob Smith says:

      Well, I wouldn’t say there’s no proof that Tebow is not dominant. In fact, last year in Denver, he won despite completing less than 50% of his passes. He ran for over 600 yards and only played about half the season. This is a guy who, in a full season, might rush for 1,000 yards. I’d say that’s pretty dominant since there are only a couple of QBs ever who have even been close. Vick and, I think, Bobby Douglas.

  7. Unknown says:

    “…he could probably be a Gronkowski type…” Really? I doubt it–we don’t even know if Tebow can catch, and Gronkowski is a one-of-a-kind talent–but even then, wouldn’t you rather have Gronk himself (injury notwithstanding) _or pretty much any other NFL-caliber tight end_?

    I just don’t see the advantage of having someone like Tebow moving all over the field to give you mediocre production at a bunch of different positions when you already have players whose entire job it is to perform well at those positions. Also, I think the game itself is just too regimented for anything genuinely revolutionary to be attempted. It’s not like you can re-invent the forward pass…

    The Gronkowski example is probably the most extreme, in fact, but think for a second whether any team out there would even trade their first string running back for Tebow. I think it’s simply a case of NFL players being too big and fast for Tebow to really make much of a mark anywhere. He’s an extremely gifted athlete, but so is everyone else in the league.

    It does seem that if something like this had a snowball’s chance in hell of working, someone would have tried it by now. And, forgive my homerism, but the situation Joe is describing is a little like what the Patriots already do with Julian Edelman (who is also a former college QB). Sometimes the schemes work and sometimes they don’t. He’s obviously not as big and strong as Tebow, but I’m quite sure he’s much faster.

    This article was a great read for the Culpepper-Moss story, but can we please stop with the Tebow worship?

    • Rob Smith says:

      Denver did try it last year, actually. And it worked. And Tebow did dominate many games even thow he can’t complete passes.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Carolina ran some spread last year too, and it worked. They only lost because of their terrible defense. I don’t know what’s gone wrong this year, but their offense really sucks.

    • It “worked” with Denver, to the extent it did, because Denver’s defense was so good that Tebow’s routine 1st 3 quarters of non-production, followed by 10 or 14 points was enough to win games…they were 8-5 with him starting, and in only 3 of the 8 wins did they score more than 18 points…I don’t call that evidence of workability…

  8. Very good point, and it applies in every sport. Teams fear looking unorthodox more than they fear failure.

    I think it was Joe Sheehan who pointed out that baseball teams carry a utility man who can’t hit on their rosters just so that if they get in a 13-inning game and their shortstop gets hurt, they don’t have to play a middle reliever in the infield somewhere until that one game ends, because that would be embarrassing. So teams go 162 games without an additional useful pinch-hitter.

    If only Bruce Bochy had the courage to use Tim Lincecum twice a week for 3 innings during the regular season.

    • Mark says:

      Good point, but it would also help if the roster did not include 18 pitchers. God forbid the manager can’t get the 750 righty lefty matchups he wants in the last two innings.

    • Rob Smith says:

      The key is having versatile players, which is pretty rare. The Braves had Martin Prado, who can hit. Normally, play him in LF. Chipper Jones out of the lineup, play him at 3B. Dan Uggla forgot how to hit, play him at 2B. SS and backup SS injured, play him there. If you can find someone versatile, another one is Omar Infante, then they are very valuable for plugging injuries, pinch hitting etc. You’d give a guy like that 400 ABs just filling in all over the place. But, I get your point, since most teams don’t have a Prado or an Infante, they settle for some shlub who can play a little defense, but can’t hit at all.

  9. macomeau says:

    The biggest problem, as I see it, is this:

    If you have your Swiss-Tebow offense, and Tebow is sometimes not playing quarterback, then someone else needs to be the quarterback. We’re granting that Tebow is unique, so you can’t just get another Tebow (or four) to play in your offense. The other QB will, therefore, be a conventional QB. Eventually, lack of imagination will take hold and the conventional QB will always be the QB and Tebow will be a fullback, or something.

    But the dream is lovely. That’s part of the reason I love college football and have pretty much no interest in the NFL.

  10. banacek says:

    In the future, if you decide to to another telegram gag? It’s kind of not worth it if you can’t actually make the gag telegram read basically like a real telegram. So: Don’t put periods after the STOPs. The STOPs are what they had _instead_ of periods—that’s why they had them, because there were no periods in telegrams. And no parentheses either, obviously. So the Chiefs-to-Culpepper telegram should read


    Details, people.

  11. rcharbon says:

    Best. Posterisk. Ever.

  12. Butch says:

    I’ve often wondered if a college basketball team can use the four other guys as offensive linemen. Just have your best shooter walk up the court with four guys around him and then shoot 3-pointers. Almost every team has a guy who can sink 3-pointers all day with no one in his face. Since we’re using almost no energy on offense, we can (theoretically) fight like demons on defense.

    I know nothing about basketball so it’s possible this is illegal.

    • DJM says:

      Technically, the other team could then stand in a line in front of the group and take the offensive fouls as they cross mid-court.

    • Rob Smith says:

      At some levels you see this on inbounds plays under the basket. Set up a picket line in front of the basket and throw it up high to a big man right behind it, who then throws in about a six footer.

    • adam says:

      You can’t set a moving pick, which is basically what this strategy amounts to. There may also be rules against a pick set by more than one player, e.g. a fence or diamond. Finally you’d need a really high percentage shooter, because you’ll never get any rebounds.

  13. csb669 says:

    For some reason that rendition of the Moss /Culpepper improv play totally reminded me of the play that got Kosar booted out of Cleveland – drawing up a TD pass to the “other” Michael Jackson in the dirt.

  14. csb669 says:

    Just wait until Braxton Miller enters the league. Oh, don’t worry, I’ll sure they’ll just have him hand off on every first down. :/

  15. csb669 says:

    PS, I want a Youtube link of that play. Thanks Joe!

  16. DJM says:

    The irony is that every so often you find someone who IS a creative coach, then the entire league follows their lead and turns the strategy conventional.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Bill Walsh, for example, with the West Coast offense. The NBA is actually worse. Very little innovation, just little tricks to get your best athletes a better chance to dunk.

  17. mahoffmansts says:

    Talk to this guy by the name of Bill O’Brien.

  18. This is kind of interesting, considering that football is likely the most innovative of the Big 3 US sports. Baseball is notoriously hidebound in terms of strategy and tactics, to the point where teams routinely make suboptimal decisions in the name of tradition. Basketball strategy and tactics are driven by rule changes – allowing zone defense, adding the three-point line – and increasingly hampered by the fact that the court is simply too small for today’s NBA players. Every team has a player who, if given the ball one-on-one with a defender, can score or get to the line a majority of the time. (BTW, @Butch – it is illegal to set a moving screen, which is what your plan amounts to.) These guys can jump out of the gym, bench-press trucks and outrun deer – they’re simply too hard to defend.

    Then we get to football. In the last 20 years, the NFL has moved from a run-first league to a pass-first league, incorporating spread and wildcat offense principles, and countering with increasingly elaborate blitz and coverage packages. The game on the field is tremendously more sophisticated than it was.

    The NFL is willing to try new things, but the things that work in college don’t work in the NFL. Take the standard zone-read-option run, where the QB hands the ball off or not by reading what a player – a DE or LB – is doing instead of blocking them. This is fine in college where they can’t cover both plays and can’t simply drill the QB legally. In the NFL, the DE can either crash on the RB to force the QB to run, or hammer the QB anyway – or be fast enough to cover both.

    This kind of issue is at the heart of Tebow’s problems in the NFL. Every defender in the NFL can cover an amazing amount of territory – if you can’t force them to defend the entire field, sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone, you can’t throw effectively. You can’t option most NFL players with the QB – even Tebow isn’t faster than Clay Matthews or James Harrison – and so the two primary means by which he dominated college are unlikely to lead to NFL success, no matter how sophisticated the scheme in which he plays.

    Tim Tebow might make a fine RB or LB – or a decathlete! – but I don’t think he’s sui generis for a new NFL offense.

  19. Gary says:

    I’ve often wondered this, especially at the lower levels of sports. One year our local high school basketball team was bad – they’d only won three or four games. Going into the sectional, they faced a team that played a slow half-court style of offense that featured a lot of passing until, essentially, the defense got bored and they were able to score. During their regular season meeting, this team had beaten our team by about 30 points.

    I thought that we should press the other team’s guards when they inbounded the ball; no one had tried that on them all season, preferring instead to set up half-court defenses, so I thought that might rattle them enough to give us a fighting chance. The worst-case scenario was that we’d lose by 35 instead of 30. At least it would have been more exciting.

    I was friends with the coach and mentioned this to him, but his response was something to the effect that since the other team played a half-court offense, he had to play a half-course defense. That’s what he did and, sure enough, we lost by the 35 points I’d expected, just in a much more boring way.

  20. Nick O says:

    Joe, I agree with you to an extent here, but I don’t think you have the right athlete in mind. Erik Spoelstra said earlier this year that he regretted trying to make Lebron James into a Small Forward his first year coaching him, when Lebron James’ position is really a new position called Lebron James. Once he stopped pegging Lebron down, he became unstoppable. In football, a better example may be Lawrence Taylor, who would move all over the field and wreak unpredictable havoc on offenses.

    I feel like for this to work in football it needs to be using someone with the freakish athleticism of a Lawrence Taylor or Lebron James. I think I’d try this with Colin Kaepernick or Jamaal Charles before I tried it with Tebow.

  21. Rachel says:

    Amen to this post. I wish teams wouldn’t be so afraid to take a risk and look different. I thought the Jets would fulfill those hopes, but for whatever reason they haven’t been nearly as creative as anticipated. And of course they’re being widely ridiculed now for taking Tebow on, and everyone’s saying, “We saw this coming!” So chances are even slimmer that anyone will dare to be unconventional in that way next year.

    Still, I think Tebow will get his shot. I’ve no logical reason for thinking so; I can’t point to a team that I think wants him to start. I just think Tebow’s life is a fascinating story, so I’ll be surprised if his football career ends in a boring way.

  22. Ed McDonald says:

    I have wondered about Tebow at tight end. No one has tried it, right? Maybe he can’t catch, he definitely has the body for it.

    I would be great if someone could find a way to use him. The guy is a gamer, he’ll leave his guts on the field for you, you gotta love that.

  23. simon says:

    I had never seen the Culpepper/Moss improv TD – awesome!

    I found and watched it here, it starts at about 3:23

  24. Matt says:

    Mike Martz basically did this with the Rams during the Greatest Show on Turf era. They were mediocre for so many years, then Martz took over as OC and would routinely set the entire offense in motion before the play. It was like watching a video game player switch through the plays before settling on the one he wants. Defenses that relied on hot reads were befuddled.

    Martz would also routinely have the QB throw deep on third down, which led to a lot of interceptions. His stated reasoning was that 55-yard pass leading to an interception was no different from a 55-yard punt.

    The league eventually caught up to him, and so did his terrible drafts, but for a while it was a terrific example of a coach who stubbornly refused to care what the outside world thought of him.

  25. bekastays says:

    Mr. Posnanski…THANK YOU. I’ve been waiting for someone to write an article like this. It feels like it’s so easy for sports writers to pile on Tebow and say he’ll never make it. But it just seems so naive to focus on one aspect of his playing potential and negate his overall potential. I realize that it’s a pass-happy league and that Tebow isn’t a pass-happy QB. But it seems like the greatest developments – in sports and in history – are based on finding an unconventional yet effective way to get a job done better. I really think that if a creative, open-minded coach would take a risk on a whole Tebow system, it would be an unconventional, effective way to get a job done better.

  26. boblince says:

    This idea is so old it’s new. Happened in the 50s-60s. College qb wins Heisman Trophy. Plays in NFL. Elected to NFL Hall Of Fame, but not as qb. Name: Paul Hornung. And IIRC, Gene A. Washington played some qb for Stanford before making it big as WR for the 49ers.

    But in today’s world where the big money gives everyone Jeter-sized egos, players like Vick and Tebow (and especially their agents) would sulk mightily if they were moved to positions of greater value to their teams.

  27. Kate says:

    John Fox, last year, said a few times various things about how they had to redesign their entire system for Tebow, with the implication being this was terribly onerous and ridiculous.

    I think he could’ve kept on doing that, to some success, except Elway’s more of a traditionalist than Fox is.

    That said, the Broncos didn’t succeed fully last year — though of course part of that is they went up against the Pats, who almost won it all.

    The other part of it is, Tebow doesn’t have the skills of a traditional QB, which is (part of) why the anony-Jets were slagging on him, but he has some less quantifiable skills that could be married to an interesting system.

    But of course, the problem with invention is, for every lightbulb, there’s hundreds of patents for, say, shoe umbrellas, that disappear because they stink.

    I have no ultimate point.

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