Meet Tim Tebow, the most famous special-teams upback in N.F.L. history

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Tebow's introduction. ()
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A weekly column about what the Jets are up to when they're not playing football.

Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff, without indicating the full extent of his vision, said he plans to use Tim Tebow on special teams a lot this year. The Jets already announced that Tebow will be the upback/personal protector on the punt team, thus making him the most famous upback/personal protector in the history of the league. He will likely see action on other units as well.

In a mysterious statement, Westhoff referred to Tebow as a “more potent Brad Smith.”

It’s unclear what he meant by that. Does this mean that Tebow might return kicks, like Smith did? That would be fun in a Nelson Muntz kind of way, but Tebow seems a bit slow for kick returns: He runs a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash, while a guy like Smith and most returners are in the 4.4-4.5 range.

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Either way, wherever Tebow is, he will call attention to special teams, something that will undoubtedly make Westhoff very happy. Westhoff is one of the world’s foremost evangelists about the importance of special teams. During the 2010 season, when I interviewed him for a feature on Smith, he had this to say:

“About 50 percent of N.F.L. games are about a 7 or 8 point difference; 25 percent of N.F.L. games are decided by 3 points or less. People claim that [special teams] is one-third of a game. Well, it’s not, but it’s approximately one-fifth.

“The point is, the games are so close, it can be any play that decides the game. That axiom of, ‘Players don’t want to spend a lot of time on this bullshit?’ Well, they certainly don’t do that with me.”

There seems to be a feeling that the Jets’ special teams fell off last year from its levels of 2010 and 2009. That’s actually not true, at least according to the play-by-play DVOA metric of FootballOutisders.com, which looks at every play and then calibrates its value based on game situation and opponent. The Jets finished fourth in special teams DVOA last year, compared to fifth in 2010 and sixth in 2009. Their DVOA percentage in 2011 was higher than in both of those years as well.

To upgrade the special teams, the Jets are bringing in Josh Brown, who kicked for the St. Louis Rams for the past several years, to challenge underwhelming incumbent Nick Folk. Westhoff said wanted to draft a kicker last month, but “we just weren’t able to do it… [much to] my consternation.”

Brown, he said, “is the most viable candidate” for the job at this time.

Folk has made 77 percent of his field goals in two years as the Jets’ kicker. Last year, Brown hit on 75 percent of his field goals. Per Manish Mehta of the Daily News, Brown made 82 percent of his kicks in seasons prior to last year, and 69 percent of his field goals of 40 or more yards or more before last year, when that figure slipped to 57 percent.

“He had a lot of really good years. He fell off a little. I spent a lot of time talking to him about it. I have a very good handle on some of the things that took place and why he wasn’t as efficient as he had been,” Westhoff told reporters.

Brown and Folk were both near the bottom of the league in terms of the percentage of their kicks that were returned. According to Pro Football Focus, 75.3 percent of Folk’s kicks were returned, and 69.8 percent of Brown’s kicks were. (Compare that to Lawrence Tynes, for whom 58.3 percent of his kicks were returned, which was middle-of-the-pack.) But maybe the Jets did something scheme-wise on kickoffs to play to Folk’s strengths: Despite the lack of touchbacks, the Jets’ average starting field position for opponents was the seventh-best in the league, at the 20.7 yard line.

Westhoff also said the Jets hope to add a punter to challenge T. J. Conley, who he said “did some things that were pretty good. [But] there were inconsistencies.”

The Jets’ punt team finished fourth in the league in the FootballOutsiders rankings.

I ALMOST FORGOT THE BIGGEST PIECE OF TEBOW NEWS: In a sign of solidarity with his new city that represents a clean break from his past, Tim Tebow’s dog, nee “Bronco,” will now answer only to the name “Bronx.”

IT TURNS OUT THAT THIRD-ROUND DRAFT pick Demario Davis practices a similar brand of muscular Christianity to Tim Tebow. As Jenny Vrentas of the Star-Ledger reports, Davis ratcheted his Christianity up during his sophomore year of college at Arkansas State University. Following a meeting with a member of the on-campus Christian organization “Campus Outreach,” he quit drinking and spent ten weeks in Tampa doing evangelism training.

Davis might have found God, but that doesn’t mean he was averse to kicking the ass of his fellow man. Amid team acrimony, Vrentas writes, “Davis made the rare decision to step in as an enforcer. One or two times, he admitted, that entailed getting in a teammate's face and putting him into a locker.”

Of course, the bigger news about Davis this week was that Rex Ryan couldn’t help but compare him to Ray Lewis, who he coached in Baltimore.

“I’m not saying Demario is that guy, and there’s only one Ray Lewis,” Ryan said. “But it’s interesting. His face, mannerisms, passion – I see some things, and it’s interesting.

Billy Beane and Michael Lewis would caution against evaluating players on the basis of a “good face,” but Rex knows defense, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Judging by this video, he’s correct that Davis has some charisma.

But so does the man everyone says he’ll soon replace: Bart Scott, the embattled “Mad Backer” who will turn 32 before this season. Scott’s contract is guaranteed for this season and the salary-cap hit the Jets would take by parting ways with him makes it almost certain that he will be on the team. But if the Jets let him go before next season, they would save themselves $7.5 million off the 2013 salary cap.

IT'S NEWS TO NOBODY HOW TRASCENDENTLY AWESOME DARRELLE Revis is, but we’ll take any opportunity to pause and give thanks to the fact that we’re watching a truly historical player.

Pro Football Focus, in its ranking of the Top 100 players in the league, ranked Revis fifth overall, behind only Calvin Johnson, Drew Brees, Justin Smith, and Aaron Rodgers.

Revis’s numbers were astounding. On throws in his direction, he allowed a completion percentage of 41.2 percent, along with a quarterback rating of 45.6 (the league average rating is of 82.5). He was even better in the fourth quarter, allowing a 26 completion percentage and a microscopic rating of 1.3.

The site ranked the late-season Giants game as his best game, a game that I had the good fortune to spotlight on this site.

Other Jets to crack the Top 100 were: Sione Pouha, at 36, who was the highest rated run defender among defensive tackles, and Nick Mangold, who even in a “down year” marred by an early high ankle sprain, finished 46th in the league.

AT THE FIFTH DOWN BLOG, ANDY BENOIT makes an interesting observation: Nobody has said a word about Plaxico Burress for months. We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of his release from prison. Around a year ago, the hype machine was speculating about where Burress would go, while reasonable minds were cautioning that he was likely to be a fraction of his former self, which itself had become pretty overrated by that point. Burress was a very good receiver in his prime, but he had become way more famous than he ever was good.

Then he wore that Phillies hat on the way out of prison that fueled speculation that he would sign with the Eagles, then signed with Rex Ryan and his anti-Giant Jets, then he made a beautiful diving catch in his first preseason game. This, dovetailing with the rest of the hype surrounding all things Jets, raised expectations for Burress to an even more unrealistic level.

Looked at from the vantage of those expectations, his 2011 season was a bust: He amassed just 612 yards, caught only half the passes thrown in his direction, and couldn’t outrun defensive backs downfield.

But there were mitigating factors: He caught eight touchdowns, which showed that he’s an effective red-zone target; he made a game-saving one-handed catch along the sideline that enabled the Jets to eke out a late-season win against the Bills; his quarterback was Mark Sanchez; the Jets’ offense couldn’t run the ball to set up the pass; his catch rate was never much better than 50 percent even when he was in his 20s and hadn’t just spent the previous two years in prison; and, oh yeah, the guy was in prison for two years. If you remember how much slower Michael Vick appeared during his first season as a newly-free man, Burress’s lack of deep speed – which was never great to begin with – is much more understandable.

For those with realistic expectations going into last season, Burress did alright. Still, he has received very little interest on the free-agent market this year, despite the fact that he should be faster and better this year than last year. Teams without good receivers – Benoit throws out Jacksonville, Buffalo, Miami and Baltimore as candidates in his post – could do a lot worse than to take a flyer on him.

One thing for sure is that he’s definitely not coming back to the Jets, who have shown zero interest in him this offseason and drafted Stephen Hill in the second round, who Rex Ryan said he expects to start. The Jets have three other seemingly un-cuttable receivers in Jeremy Kerley, Patrick Turner, and free-agent signee Chas Schillens, a talented former Oakland Raider who has been nagged by injuries his whole career but who, according to Mike Tannenbaum, “might catch 100 balls” for the Jets.

As for the possibility that Burress might sign with the Eagles, something about which Burress said “Nothing else would make me happier,” it’s unlikely he could supplant the perpetually decent Jason Avant behind surefire starters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to become that team’s third receiver.