Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Good and Evil Need Each Other, If Only to Run the Wildcat

So much for those people who say Bill Belichick has no sense of humor! The news that the Patriots have signed Tim Tebow certainly cracked me up, and I'll bet I'm not alone.

Actually, when it comes to hiring football players, Belichick DOESN'T have a sense of humor. The Tebow hiring has to have some purpose besides throwing a custard pie in the face of all the "experts" who have opined that Tebow has no possible future in the NFL. While discomfiting Trent Dilfer is truly the Lord's work, Belichick will leave that line of work to his new temporary employee. The coach has to have some idea of how he might use Tebow to the Pats' best advantage. Damned if I can figure out what it is, but that's of no consequence. The point is, that idea exists.

Belichick usually ignores football journalism finds inaccurate or foolish. It is telling that he issued a strong and angry denial of a Yahoo! story by Mike "I was really hip in 1998" Silver saying he hated Tebow as a player. Belichick doesn't expect sportswriters to be football experts. But the Tebow story was personal, an affront to Belichick's very being, his approach to player assessment. It is Belichick's particular skill that he never assesses a player by what that player can't do, but by what he might be able to do.

Speculation on what Belichick's Tebow scheme might be is as wide-ranging as it is futile. Tight end? H-Back? Third-string QB to light a fire under Ryan Mallet? Cornerstone of a new offensive formation based on Belichick's old films of the flying wing? Having come to the assumption that Tebow was useless in NFL terms, the football commentariat has no conception of what use Belichick is at least willing to consider for the guy.

It's tempting to think that Belichick gave Tebow a no-risk, almost no-pay contract in the interests of pigskin science. In the NFL, Tebow is a product for which no viable commercial application has yet been discovered. Since it's far easier to go get a new player than think hard about one who doesn't seem to fit, Tebow has gone from national phenom to allegedly unemployable in about 18 months.

But when one looks at Tebow's record, especially the part under W-L, it's hard not to suspect that he has something to contribute to a winning NFL team. At least Belichick thinks so, and happily for science, is in a position where he can afford to test his hypothesis with an experiment. If it fails, well, back to the drawing board, and back to Christian broadcasting talk shows for you, Timmy. If it succeeds, well, more honor for the coach, and more laughter for me.

Given the Patriots approach to information disclosure, which is rather more stringent than that of, say, Booz Allen Hamilton, much of the experiment will be conducted in the privacy of the Foxboro laboratory. No franchise in the NFL can better turn a media circus into a media preschool picnic. Belichick will dismiss questions with his usual mixture of blandness and brevity. Tebow will answer questions with his supply of sincere and uninformative cliches. He's no Chad Johnson in the quote department. Hell, he's no Tom Brady.

In science, most experiments fail. Odds are Tebow will be released, not quietly, sometime prior to the third preseason game. But maybe not. The Tebow experiment doesn't have to succeed to be a part of the Patriots' game plan. Standing on the sidelines, Tebow will be a mind game all by himself. Other teams will look at his study visage and say "What's he there for? What's Belichick up to?"

An opponent with an undiagnosed worry has already spotted you a point and a half. If the worry's wholly imaginary, so much the better.


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