CORTLAND, N.Y. — Fans chanting his name and carrying banners proclaiming his greatness — or otherwise — will have to wait a couple of days. As the New York Jets reported to training camp Thursday, Tim Tebow simply was another player.
Well, almost. Tebow had to chuckle when asked about the legions of media that follow his every move, even on a rainy afternoon when nothing more is required of him or his teammates than showing up.
With perhaps 50 reporters, cameramen and broadcasters on hand at SUNY Cortland, it didn’t look much different than one of Tebow’s postgame gatherings in Denver last season. Surely, the focus is not the same: Tebow now is a backup to Mark Sanchez, as everyone from the head coach to the offensive coordinator to Sanchez himself made clear for the, oh, millionth time.
Still, it was Tebow who drew the most attention, including a comical episode in which the TV folks had to scramble for position when Tebow lined up elsewhere from where they anticipated.
"I really try not to let this affect my life," a laughing Tebow said about the media crush that is likely to continue through the rest of the summer. "I try to live my life and not worry about what I can’t control."
Tebow then glanced all around him and smiled.
"This is like the first day of college."
Ah, but this central New York university hasn’t seen anything like what could develop over the next few weeks, beginning Saturday when the Jets hold their first public practice. Every move by both quarterbacks will be scrutinized not only by local and national journalists — one Jets employee asked Thursday when TSPN (all Tebow all the time) goes on the air — but by the folks who buy tickets. Fans are certain to take up Tebow’s cause, or Sanchez’s.
Tebow says he can ignore all that and concentrate on "getting better every day."
"Playing football doesn’t get old," the third-year quarterback who saved Denver’s 2011 season said.
How much football he will play is the big question. It figures that during the preseason, when starting QBs don’t get on the field for much game action, Tebow will be the Jets’ main man.
But in practices, and certainly when the regular season kicks off against Buffalo on Sept. 9, the Jets expect him to be part-time Tebow behind three-year starter Sanchez.
"We clearly have a starting quarterback and that’s Mark," coach Rex Ryan reiterated. "I know the history of the league and the saying, ‘When you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any.’ Tell that to the San Francisco 49ers with Montana and Young.
"This is a different situation, with a clear-cut starting QB."
Clear cut to some, including those in power with the Jets — for now. Not so clear to the impassioned fans of the ultra-popular Tebow.
Not that Tebow doesn’t have a role in the offense being installed by former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano. At Miami, Sparano revitalized the wildcat, and he believes Tebow fits the QB role in that formation perfectly.
Plus, the Jets are toying with using Tebow as the protector on punts because of his size and athletic skills.
"I have a very good idea how I want to use him, and the way I want to go about it in the next several weeks," Sparano said. "We’ll throw the offensive book at him and see what sitcks. Things that look good we’ll continue. Things that don’t look good we’ll throw out."
What no one wants — not even Sanchez — is to have Tebow cede the starting quarterback job without a fight. Ryan can’t imagine that happening.
"You never want a player who doesn’t want to be the guy," Ryan said when asked if he is eager for Tebow to push Sanchez for the No. 1 spot. "Competition is great for everybody.
"Tim is going to play here, there’s no question about it."
Actually, Rex, there are plenty of questions about it, and the Jets will be answering them throughout a preseason that already borders on the absurd. Queries such as:
—How much will Tebow play?
—At what junctures?
—At what positions?
—In the regular offense, or only in the wildcat?
For his part, a bulked-up Sanchez wisely is concentrating on his responsibilities. He gained 12 pounds of muscle mass and now goes at 230 pounds. He is eager to be the team leader. He was one of the first players to enter the dormitories on Thursday, and the second behind defensive tackle Sione Pouha to speak with the press.
Of course, even as Sanchez spoke, several media types with microphones in their hands or video cameras on their shoulders were peering around to see if Tebow was about to make an appearance.
Seems like that’s how it’s going to be for most everyone when the Jets take the field.