Jaguars training camp: What can Urban Meyer’s history tell us about Tim Tebow’s potential 2021 role?

When the Jaguars kick off training camp this month, plenty of eyes will be on quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the newly anointed face of the franchise. Plenty of eyes will also be on former quarterback Tim Tebow, who returned to the NFL after an eight-year hiatus this offseason, reuniting with old college coach Urban Meyer in an attempt to play tight end. Tebow isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, and countless critics have laughed off the idea of him actually suiting up this year, but there’s a case to be made that Meyer’s history of tight end usage — not just his good relationship with the former Gators star — bodes well for Tebow finding a role.

The entire discussion, of course, is irrelevant if Tebow, approaching 34, can’t withstand the rigors of the NFL after spending five years as an aspiring baseball player. Injuries took a toll on the one-time Broncos standout during his minor-league career, so durability is a legitimate concern. There’s also the fact he’s never played tight end. But for the sake of the argument, let’s say he at least looks competent in camp; nothing special, but serviceable. Meyer’s track record indicates that should be enough to crack a roster devoid of any proven talent at the position. Throw in Tebow’s skill set, and you’re talking about a real shot at game-day action.

Let’s back it up and dive into Meyer’s tight end usage as a head coach:

Bowling Green (2001-2002)

This was an entirely different era, when TEs were rarely, if ever, expected to serve as top pass targets. Meyer’s teams followed suit. In 2003, his leading receiver at TE was D’Mon Baker, who caught all of eight passes. The following year, two TEs caught passes — Baker (8) and Steve Nvarro (1). During this time, Bowling Green’s TEs coach also coached the offensive line, which tells you everything you need to know about how the position was viewed.

Utah (2003-2004)

Meyer got his first taste of real TE production when he deployed Ben Moa as a multipurpose weapon in 2003, feeding the big man 26 carries and 31 receptions. Moa ranked fourth on the team in total plays and yards from scrimmage as a nontraditional TE. The following year, with Moa gone, the position fell off the map, with only two players registering a combined four catches at the spot.

Florida (2005-2010)

The TEs remained fairly anonymous in Meyer’s Gators debut, until premier physical talents Cornelius Ingram and Aaron Hernandez entered the scene, combining to post four straight seasons of at least 30 catches. From 2007-2010, the position progressively became a bigger part of Meyer’s offense: Ingram was the team’s No. 4 pass target in 2007, while Hernandez was No. 3 in 2008, then No. 2 (with a career-high 68 catches for 850 yards) in 2009. After Hernandez went to the NFL, Meyer kept feeding the TE spot, albeit in a different way, using Trey Burton (himself a converted QB) in 2010 as an H-back/utility man; Burton finished No. 2 in total scrimmage plays for the Gators, carrying the ball 75 times and catching 32 passes to post nearly 600 total yards.

Ohio State (2012-2018)

Meyer’s longest head coaching tenure also happened to be his least eventful in terms of TE production. Jeff Heuerman served as a featured option in 2013 (466 yards), while Marcus Baugh did the same in 2016-2017, peaking as the team’s No. 4 pass target, but no one ever emerged as a national standout during his Buckeyes run. Eleven Warrior’s Dan Hope, comparing numbers to other top programs, once argued Meyer’s offense “does not produce star tight ends,” mostly because of minimal usage.

The Tebow effect

So where does that leave Tebow? In the event the former QB makes the Jaguars, what can Meyer’s history tell us about his potential role? Well, for one thing, the pressure won’t be on the converted QB to put up big numbers. Not only because he’s been out of the league for almost a decade, but because Meyer has long worked — and won — with average/below-average production at the position, save for the Hernandez years.

Far more importantly, Meyer’s best years utilizing TEs without a freakish No. 1 came when he had a do-it-all chess piece (see: Ben Moa, Trey Burton). That is exactly what they brought in Tebow to be, so long as he proves ready to return to the NFL. You don’t sign Tim Tebow in 2021 solely because you’re confident in his hands or blocking ability; you could’ve easily added any number of unsigned veteran TEs to fill the standard role of camp body. You sign Tim Tebow because he’s an athlete. Because, if he’s even a fraction of what he was as a QB when last seen in the NFL, or in college, he gives Meyer a low-risk chance to deploy another utility man.

Could Meyer have been more creative in trying to fill that role? There is absolutely no doubt. But that’s not the discussion here. If you want to know Tebow’s most likely role on the Jaguars, the model is there. He almost assuredly would not command as many touches as guys like Moa and Burton, who were entering their football prime as college athletes, but his role — minimal as it may be — would almost assuredly mimic the ones they had. A few carries here. A few targets there. A trick pass for good measure. Any way to get the ball in his hands, even if it’s just a few times per game, keeping with the tendency to do without standard No. 1 TE production.

Published: 2021-07-21 19:39:08

Tags: #Jaguars #training #camp #Urban #Meyers #history #Tim #Tebows #potential #role

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