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CORTLAND, N.Y. — Moments before the Tim Tebow-led offense lined up Thursday in a goal-line drill, Rex Ryan walked over to the defense and did something he’d never done on a football field.
The New York Jets‘ coach announced that the quarterback, usually off-limits to would-be tacklers, was “live.” Tebow heard that and smiled — and proceeded to run for a touchdown. And another.
The Wildcat has arrived.
In the sixth practice of training camp, the Jets provided the first glimpse of how they plan to use Tebow this season. In four goal-line plays, Tebow ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, capping the sequence with a two-yard run out of the Wildcat formation.
It was the signature moment in what Ryan called Tebow’s “best day of camp.” It was the most physical practice, with an emphasis on goal-line and short-yardage situations — ideal for Tebow’s run-oriented, improvisational style at quarterback.
“We saw a little bit of what he can do, what he brings to the table,” Ryan said. “When we start doing more Wildcat things, we’ll all be excited Tim is here.”
It was a feel-good moment, but it also raised a potentially awkward issue. If Tebow comes in to run the Wildcat at the goal line, it probably means starting quarterback Mark Sanchez is coming out.
Sanchez was peppered with questions about it, claiming he wouldn’t mind if he’s removed at the end of a long drive.
“Doesn’t matter, we have to win,” he said. “It’s fine with me … It’s bigger than what one person on this team wants. We’re in the business of winning and we have to be selfless, myself included.”
When the Jets traded for Tebow, they announced he’d be used in the Wildcat. Until Thursday, they hadn’t provided any specifics of the plan.
But on the fourth play of the goal-line drill, Tebow, working with the second-team offense, lined up in the shotgun formation. He took a direct snap and faked a handoff to Joe McKnight, who was in motion from left to right. Tebow tucked the ball and ran a power play over the left side of the line, barreling easily into the end zone.
The crowd roared, knowing it had just witnessed the unveiling of Tebow.
“If that’s something they want me to do, I’d be more than happy to do it and try to do it to the best of my ability — and, hopefully, do a pretty good job at it,” Tebow said.
The Jets believe he can be a weapon in the red zone. A year ago, they led the league in red-zone efficiency and they also scored touchdowns on 80 percent of their goal-to-go situations, tied for the league lead.
But Ryan believes Tebow, a rock-solid 250 pounds, adds a different dimension to the offense.
“I can see us doing some of that because I know how difficult it is to stop,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to score, if that means putting Tim in or if it means leaving Mark in.”
Sanchez said Tebow gives them a matchup advantage at the goal line, saying if Tebow is one-on-one with a defender, “My money’s on Tim.”
In practice, the quarterback wears a red jersey, meaning no one touches him. Ryan changed the rules for Tebow.
“When he said it was live, that made me smile,” said Tebow, who was used in a similar role as a freshman at Florida.
On the first play, he scored — untouched — on a bootleg. On the second play, it was a play-action rollout and he hit Josh Baker for a touchdown. On the fourth play, they ran the Wildcat, confusing the defense for a split second with McKnight in motion.
“It looks like there’s more gadgets and gizmos, but it’s just a power play,” Tebow said. “With the shifts and motions, you can stretch a defense horizontally. They think, ‘We have to play speed sweep.’ Joe is a great threat. I give a token fake and get inside.”
Ironically, Sanchez was productive last season at the goal line, scoring six rushing touchdowns.
“Let’s not forget, Mark is a heck of an athlete as well,” Ryan said. “The only difference is, Mark is going to slide. Tim is going to lower his shoulder and run over the safety.”