With Week 1 of the NFL season looming, teams have begun to cut down their final rosters prompting discussion about some of the league's more prominent reserves. There may not be a more high-profile quarterback battling for the No. 3 job than Tim Tebow, and the Philadelphia Eagles should make a decision on the former Heisman Trophy winner by Saturday.
The Eagles trimmed their roster to 78 players on Sunday, with Tebow surviving the cuts to little surprise, but he may still be on the bubble before the Sept. 5 deadline. Sam Bradford is expected to win the starting job, and Mark Sanchez should earn the No. 2 role, forcing head coach Chip Kelly to decide between Tebow and Matt Barkley for the third-string position.
Tebow and Barkley are expected to spend the most time under center on Thursday, when the Eagles face the New York Jets in the final preseason game of the season. How both players perform could provide Kelly with a better idea of who should make the roster. Kelly is not expected to carry four quarterbacks, despite Tebow perhaps playing a role outside of quarterback. When he played for the Jets in 2012, Tebow was sometimes used at tight end and fullback.
"He's had a good camp,'' Kelly told reporters, when asked about Tebow. "He's got another big week this week. And then playing (Thursday) against the Jets. He'll be working hard for that."
The Eagles were in action on Saturday, and all four quarterbacks received time under center in the third and most important game of the preseason. As expected, the game didn't reveal too many unknowns, but the performances were encouraging.
Locking up his expected starting spot after Kelly traded for him in the spring, Bradford went an electric 10-for-10 in pass attempts for 121 yards and three touchdowns for a 156.7 passer rating. Sanchez, getting more reps in than Bradford, looked every bit the obvious choice for back-up going 13-for-19 for 150 yards and two more scores.
Barkley and Tebow didn’t exactly play well enough to make Kelly’s decision easier. Barkley, who has reportedly been on the trading block for weeks, had more attempts with a 5-for-9 night for 28 yards. Tebow only had two pass plays, and completed both for a total of 15 yards. But the dual-threat quarterback could muster only four yards on three rushing attempts.
With the new two-point conversion rule taking effect this season, Tebow’s ability to knock back defenders for huge chunks of yardage combined with his competitive spirit figured to be major weapons when Philadelphia go for two. However, Tebow was stuffed on his first two-point rush and his pass to rookie receiver Nelson Agholor was nearly intercepted.
"The first one we didn't get enough penetration. On the pass, we got pressure from the backside. We have to work on that," Kelly said.
Kelly has remained tight-lipped on who will make the team, though a report from ESPN stated Tebow should make the Eagles as long as he avoids major mistakes during the preseason. While he wasn’t effective on the two conversions, Tebow has otherwise avoided turnovers and played within Kelly’s complex system during the preseason.
Furthermore, former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson said he's spoken to Kelly about Tebow.
"I've talked to Chip Kelly a few times and Chip is trying to make it work," Johnson said to the Orlando Sentinel last week. "There may be a spot for Tim on that Philadelphia team ... there might be a package for him."
But Johnson also insisted Tebow’s future rests on his ability to throw accurately, not strictly as a two-point conversion specialist.
"The one knock I hear continually about Tim Tebow from coaches who have coached him in the NFL and players who have played with him: He is very inaccurate. You didn't see that in college because the coverage is so loose in college, where you don't have those tight coverages and tight windows.
“Now at times when we've watched Tebow ‑ and I love watching him play ‑ he would get into a streak and a zone where he could make those pinpoint passes, but for the long haul he's not a real accurate passer. But maybe he's improved his accuracy."
Thus far, Tebow has shown minor if negligible improvement on his accuracy during the preseason. In three appearances, the 28-year-old has gone 10-for-19 for 95 yards for no touchdowns and a 52.6-completion percentage, which is only a shade above his career mark of 47.9 percent.
But Tebow’s gained 50 yards on 10 attempts, which could give him an edge on Barkley. Tebow, however, did take three sacks for a loss of 28 yards in the second preseason matchup.
Kelly’s decision will likely come down to what kind of role he expects from his third-stringer. Barkley certainly fits the mold of a more traditional pocket passer, totaling 306 yards on 23-for-43 passing, or 53.4 percent, and stands as a clone of Bradford and Sanchez in terms of style of play.
Should he make the team, Tebow wouldn’t be asked to make the same plays as Bradford or Sanchez. He’d run a simpler form of Kelly’s offense with fewer big plays down field, but he’d likely make a Philadelphia running game that already includes DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews more dangerous.