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Greenberg: The Real Question at QB

Posted Nov 15, 2012

As the clouds darken over the Jets season, the ultimate lightning rod does nothing but resolutely mind his own business until he repeatedly gets struck.

“Every single day when Tim Tebow hits the field, he works about as hard as anybody I’ve seen,” said Rex Ryan. “He has done everything we have asked him to do.”

On Wednesday, it included taking another one for a 3-6 team that, unable to figure out how to best utilize Tebow, has inadvertently turned him into a red herring. Without an NFL-caliber arm, he is a spot player but the New York Daily News nevertheless went to Jets players with the self-fulfilling question: “Should Tebow be the starting quarterback?”

Some of them were dumb enough to give the right answer in the wrong way — anonymously and, in one case (“he’s terrible”), nastily — humiliating a teammate who has done nothing but the correct thing since he arrived.

It also forced Ryan to defend a locker room’s culture that he had insisted was improved from a year ago. It is or it isn’t. But whether chemistry brings winning or winning brings chemistry, the Jets’ cart is stuck in the mud regardless, minus enough horses to either pull it or push it from whichever end you want to put them to work.

Players are still being asked what they think of a boutique player because Mark Sanchez, drafted fifth overall to be the franchise quarterback, is struggling due to the worst help he has had both from teammates and coaches in his four NFL seasons.

Blitzers continue to come free, causing Rex to praise Sanchez’s durability, about the only good thing the coach can say lately about a quarterback who has thrown four red zone interceptions and lost four fumbles.

If he is holding the ball too long, it is because the last Jets back to pick up a blitz probably was Emerson Boozer. The Jets can always go to three-step drops and quick outs to Dustin Keller — but wait, they tried that in Seattle and Keller dropped the ball in addition to his two false starts.

The next play after one of them, on the Jets’ best offensive scoring chance of the day, Sanchez telegraphed an interception from the Atlantic to the Pacific, remaining Dr. Jekyll with one throw and Mr. Hyde with the next. So of course the 3-6 is Sanchez’s fault too, but how much really when in April the Jets spent just one of their four picks over the six rounds — second-rounder Stephen Hill — on their offense, and their biggest veteran offensive moves since March were for Clyde Gates and Tebow?

Sanchez won four playoff games in his first three seasons and has directed 11 fourth-quarter comebacks. That shouldn’t make him quarterback for life, only leaves him quarterback for this year, for lack of a good immediate alternative.

Ryan repeated Wednesday what he has been consistent about since day one: Tebow was not brought here to compete to be the starting quarterback but to bring another dimension. As the coach reminded everyone, Tebow has done that out of punt formation, but the promised expansion of his role in Seattle — not only did the Jets leave him in for two consecutive plays, but let him throw a pass! — did nothing to inspire confidence that anything truly dynamic is going to happen out of the Jets’ Wildcat.

If it ever does, it will not build a logical case for Tebow becoming the No. 1 quarterback, more would help Sanchez continue in that role with less controversy. Other teams, including the Jets with Brad Smith during Sanchez’s time, have utilized the Wildcat effectively without hopelessly damaging their quarterback’s self-esteem or disrupting his rhythm. When time after time Tebow gets stuffed on that same 2- or 3-yard run, leaving second- or third-and-long, now that’s what disturbs Sanchez’s rhythm. The Wildcat should be helping, not hurting him.

The issue is getting Sanchez, who has the lowest completion percentage of any NFL starter, to play better. The issue is not Tebow or even team morale, when there was no apparent support in the room for making No. 15 the starter, well before the reporter asked some Jets a question to which they gave the expected, obvious and honest answer: No, he doesn’t throw well enough to be a viable option as an NFL No. 1.

“Guys know that I’m the starter. That’s nothing new,” said Sanchez. “The team has said that and players have said that, but at the same time you don’t have to go overboard [piling on Tebow].

“Tim works his butt off. Be supportive. I said it was a cowardly thing last year [when Sanchez’s work habits were slammed by anonymous teammates] and my feelings haven’t changed.

“Coach gave us a good talk about it today. Guys responded well. I don’t think it is a divisive as people might think. I’m sure it doesn’t feel good for Tim, but it’s not like everybody walked out for practice today, threw their stuff down and walked out.

“Guys I talked to, it was, 'Yeah, not cool.' I've been there. Just move on.”

Which Tebow will do, continuing to live the religion the son of missionaries has preached. He has not politicked for the starting job nor complained about how predictably and how little he is being used, all the while impressing his head coach as perhaps the hardest worker on the team. So what did he do to deserve the controversy that rages around him? Besides not being blessed by birth with an NFL starter’s throwing touch, we mean.

“I don’t stop and wonder why,” he replied, our question an open invitation to a pity party. “It doesn’t help me, just makes me think about it more, and that’s not who I am or who I want to be.

“There is some frustration and some sadness. It’s never fun to be the subject of criticism. But at the same time it’s something I have always used as motivation.

“This is a first as far as anonymous sources but there is always something going on. I try to get strong from it. I always find the good and positive in any situation and the positive in this is work a little harder, improve and build better relationships with your teammates. There is always more you can do.”

He was asked where Tim Tebow goes from here. “I go to a special teams meeting,” he laughed.

“I do the next thing, I go to the meeting, watch film, take a shower. Improve one step at a time, Life can get complicated. I try to simplify it.”

The Jets may not have brought in any immediate answers during the offseason for their offensive problems, but they signed a Pro Bowl-caliber Trojan horse. Yesterday nobody asked Ryan about Sanchez’s regression or job status, about drops, false starts, or blockers constantly getting outnumbered by the tacklers, indicative of getting outcoached.

The guy averaging seven snaps a game took it all for his team. And there isn’t a better guy in the NFL to handle it.

Preseason Live: New York Jets

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