Is Tim Tebow a real option at running back for the Jets?

Thursday October 18th, 2012

Tim Tebow has averaged 3.6 yards per carry so far this season. (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE)

Just about every week it seems, we hear that the Jets are prepared to dive a little deeper into their Tim Tebow portion of the playbook. And every week, aside from a fake punt here and jump pass there, we're left wondering, "Is this it?"

So far, Tebow has been kept mostly under wraps -- he's attempted just three passes, no more than one in any single game; and he's maxed out at five rush attempts twice, in Week 1 and against last Sunday. But we might finally see Tebow unleashed Sunday, in the Jets' key road game against the Patriots ... only not quite as we expected.

Rex Ryan said Thursday that it's "a possibility" that he uses Tebow as a straight-up running back Sunday, with backups Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell injured.

The Jets did not add a running back this week to replace McKnight and Powell, so they're left with starter Shonn Greene and undrafted rookie Jonathan Grimes in the backfield. While Greene stepped up with a huge performance in a Week 6 win over Indianapolis, Grimes has never had a regular season NFL carry.

A third option to pick up carries is fullback Lex Hilliard, who rushed for 41 yards on 16 attempts in Miami last season.

But before going to Grimes, Hilliard or even an empty backfield, Ryan might give Tebow a shot to line up behind Mark Sanchez.

Especially in recent weeks, the Jets have had no qualms about taking a grab-bag approach to their personnel on the field -- the prime example being cameo appearances by Antonio Cromartie at receiver in both Weeks 5 and 6 (and, very possibly, again in Week 7). Using Tebow at running back would fall right in line with that.

If nothing else, Ryan has provided the Patriots with something else to think about as they game plan for this Sunday. Through the first six weeks of the season, that's probably Tebow's biggest contribution to the Jets: The possibility of him playing forcing teams to spend time prepping for that contingency plan.

Greene handled a heavy workload last week, carrying the ball 32 times for 161 yards in a win over Indianapolis. Relegating him to the bench after the best game of his career, yardage-wise, in favor of a player who has never played running back before doesn't make a ton of sense (even if that player is Tim Tebow).

McKnight and Powell combined for just seven rushes last week, despite the Jets' easy win -- a total that Hilliard or Grimes could handle.

But what if Greene struggles or gets hurt? Or, perhaps more likely, what if the Jets find themselves in need of an offensive spark? Under those circumstances, Ryan may not hesitate to throw Tebow in for a play or two, even just to shake things up. Given that the Patriots are sixth in the NFL against the run this season and Tebow is averaging less than four yards per carry, it's hard to imagine this potential development costing Bill Belichick any sleep. Sooner or later, though, we have to believe that the Jets will commit a little more heavily to the Tebow project, and this week presents an obvious window of opportunity.

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