Off-season Jets: It's still showtime, between the Tebow mega-sermon, a flirtation with HBO and Bart Scott's new ab
The Week in Tebow concluded with “Easter on the Hill,” his speaking engagement in front of 15,000 Christians outside a Texas megachurch.
Intentionally or not, the name evokes both the Sermon on the Mount and City on a Hill. The former is fitting for a nicknamed “God’s quarterback.” (Apparently, God doesn’t subscribe to completion percentage as an indicator of quarterback excellence.) The latter is fitting for a man who told the crowd, “First and foremost is what this country was based on: one nation under God.”
The event required 120 school buses and 1,200 volunteers, and featured a long line of children waiting to get John 3:16 painted under their eyes.
Tebow’s remarks were pretty consistent with stuff he’s said before, but he deviated a bit from his milk-and-cookies persona to say something sharp about athletes who don’t consider themselves role models: “Yes you are. You’re just not a good one.”
(New York Post translation: “Then he drew applause when he blasted athletes who spend more time worrying about Bentleys than benevolence.”)
Apparently it was Tebow himself who sought out the speaking engagement. One wonders whether this signals a plan for Tebow to become more vocal in the coming years than he has been since he joined the league: Until now, his professions of his faith have pretty much come in the context of reporters’ questions, with several exceptions.
This in turn makes one wonder if the Jets might be worried about what they’ve gotten themselves into. Selling some jerseys and adding a marginal offensive weapon would be one thing. Benching God’s quarterback is a whole other matter.
IF THE ENDURING IMAGE OF THE JETS' SUCCESSFUL 2010 season was linebacker Bart Scott’s famous “Can’t Wait!” rant following the Jets’ playoff upset of the Patriots, the enduring image of the unsuccessful 2011 season might be that of Scott flipping off a cameraman in the team’s locker room the day after the season ended.
Of course, the media characterizations that have circled the Jets for the past three years are really two sides of the same coin: When they are winning, their brash, chest-thumping shtick is refreshing. When they’re losing, it’s classless.
In late February, two months removed from his outburst, the man they call “The Mad Backer” was still plenty mad. His agent pronounced him “extremely frustrated” with his role on the defense, which has shrunk to the point where he leaves the game during passing situations. Last year, Scott was on the field just 64 of the time, compared to 84 percent in 2010 and 94 percent in 2009, according to Pro Football Focus.
Scott’s agent even twisted the knife by saying his client would go to the newly minted champion Giants “in a heartbeat,” thus providing another reminder of how things have changed: A little over a year ago, Giants safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle said in a radio interview that they preferred Rex Ryan’s coaching style to Tom Coughlin’s, sparking more talk that Coughlin’s rigid personality was preventing his team from being successful.
So Scott was unhappy with the Jets, and everyone assumed his days were numbered. But there was one problem: Scott’s contract, which guarantees him $4.2 million next year and has three more years on it, and which likely makes Scott untradeable. So Scott’s stuck with the Jets and vice versa, and by late March, Woody Johnson and Rex Ryan were both saying they expected Scott back and were happy about it.
It’s a reasonable sentiment. Scott’s advancing age—he was 31 last year—has slowed him to the point where the Jets evidently thought he was a liability in pass defense, but he was as good against the run as ever, accumulating the league’s sixth-best rating among inside linebackers in 3-4 schemes, according to the play-by-play charting of Pro Football Focus.
Scott’s an interesting case: For all the attention he brings to himself off the field, he does the opposite on the field. The Jets’ scheme calls on Scott to do the dirty work of taking on blockers and forcing the action away from him, leaving the glamorous job of making tackles to fellow inside linebacker David Harris and others. Essentially, he’s a critical part of the team’s run defense, which, despite the general sourness surrounding all things Jets, was actually very good last year: The Jets averaged 3.9 yards allowed per carry, good for seventh best in the league, representing just a slight slip from their average allowed in 2009 (3.8) and 2010 (3.6).
Scott clearly wants to do more than just play the run, so to this end, he’s dropped between 10 and 15 pounds this offseason. Bruce Beck of NBC news—one of the last old-style, ham-and-eggs sportscasters around—caught up with Scott at an event, and he looks thinner.
“Lemme tell you: For the first time, I met Ab 5 and 5. And I love ‘em!” churned out the quote machine.
He said that the locker room wasn’t nearly as “fractured” as it has been made out to be, seeming to demonstrate once again that team acrimony is generally blown out of proportion on disappointing teams, and is usually a symptom rather than a cause of losing.
As for next year, Scott, consciously or not, echoed a phrase now widely associated with the Jets’ stadium co-tenants: “I came here [in 2009] and I bought lakefront property. I was all in, and I’m still all in.”
CHAMP BAILEY, THE DENVER BRONCOS' SUPERSTAR cornerback and Tebow’s ex-teammate, said some pretty predictable and innocuous things about Tebow last week. But because they nominally added to the gathering storm of controversy that is the Jets quarterback situation, they wound up on the front page of ESPN.com for a few hours.
“Oh, he’s going to challenge [Mark Sanchez], absolutely,” Bailey said. “Sanchez can’t feel too comfortable in his seat. If he keeps playing well, he doesn’t have to worry about it. But if he doesn’t play well, we all know what’s going to happen.”
This all seems neither here nor there and vanilla—one could even say Bailey was being charitable with the “keeps playing well” line referring to Sanchez—but it cuts to the fundamental question about this Tebow acquisition: Is it possible for Tebow, who in January was crowned America’s most popular athlete by an ESPN Poll, to be a complementary player and nothing more?
Your opinion of the trade probably depends on the answer to this question. If you’re answer is, “Of course not,” you probably think the trade was idiotic. If you’re willing to give the Jets the benefit of the doubt that this trade was more about an incremental offensive upgrade than selling tickets, then you probably think it’s an OK move.
YOU'D HAVE TO THINK THE ODDS ARE AROUND 80 percent that the Jets will once again appear on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this summer.
Last week, owner Woody Johnson acknowledged that the Jets and HBO had discussed a repeat appearance, with Tebow this time. Having already made their interest public, it’s hard to imagine the Jets backing away from the show, just like it’s hard to imagine HBO not aggressively pursuing the Jets as the surest path to high ratings, widespread proclamations of Tebow and Jets fatigue be damned.
The impact of the Jets’ off-field sideshows on their on-field performance is almost definitely overstated, but a repeat appearance, after all of this, just seems like too much. It’s almost as if the Jets are doubling down in an effort to show that whatever their problem was last year, it wasn't the attention they drew to themselves.