The solution to getting Tim Tebow on the field as a starting quarterback next season might be a little less Tebow and a little more Tae Bo.
The physical specimen that is the Jets’ backup quarterback is unlike any in the NFL. Tebow looks nothing like a quarterback, with a bruising frame and size more reminiscent of a running back or linebacker. But Tebow wants to be a quarterback and proved last year with the Broncos that he can be one, with a 7-4 record in the regular season and a playoff win to bolster his unorthodox playing style.
Three years ago, Tebow stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 236 pounds. This past offseason he packed on muscle and came into training camp at 255 pounds, even heavier than Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, nicknamed “Big Ben.” The weight gain was supposed to help him withstand the beating of an NFL season, especially given his tendency to run with the ball. Instead, it might have made him a more lumbering target. According to Dr. John Eric Goff, professor of physics at Lynchburg College and author of the book “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports,” the weight gain greatly impacts Tebow’s top speed.
“Simply put, the smaller you are, the quicker you are, i.e. a field mouse accelerates much better than a hippo. Top speed, however, scales with the square root of a characteristic length of the animal. Simply put, large animals have greater top speeds than small animals,” Goff said. “A 5 percent increase in mass corresponds roughly -- but not exactly -- to a 5 percent decrease in acceleration. Tebow’s legs are not any longer, so his top speed won't increase much. It will increase a little if he has been able to seriously increase his leg strength. If, however, most of his weight gain is in his torso and arms, his top speed is likely to be hurt as well.”
So the weight game by Tebow could well correlate to the more lethargic running of the Wildcat this year and the less than spectacular return on investment for his new team. According to Goff’s calculations, it is taking Tebow 8.5 percent longer to achieve top speed. In the NFL, where plays are made in the blink of an eye, that little bit longer to hit the open field can result in a potential long gain being halved.
Out of the somewhat predictable Wildcat offense and occasionally as a personal punt protector, Tebow has rushed for a career-low 3.2 yards per carry this season. That number is two yards less per carry than last year.
But it also wouldn’t help his already criticized and scrutinized throwing motion.
The sample size this year heading into Sunday’s season finale is small, as Tebow has thrown just eight passes and completed six. But for a quarterback who completed just 46.5 percent of his passes last year, any change to his mechanics is worth noting.
“Throwing can be affected in a few different mechanical ways. Thicker arms and chest mean that the swinging motion of the arm while throwing is likely to be along a slightly different path than when the player was thinner. Also, with added strength, the athlete will have to learn new muscle memory for throws of given distances. Clearly, a thin athlete who heaves the ball will not throw as far as a muscled athlete who heaves it,” Goff said. “Of course, Tebow doesn't just put on [this weight] overnight. As he adds weight and continues to practice his throws, he'll be able to adjust. But that means that he might be throwing differently this year from how he did over the past several seasons.”
Sunday will likely be the last time Tebow will play in a Jets jersey, his future is up in the air with a team that has failed to use his unique skillset properly. Where he goes from here will be a major talking point this offseason.
Which all leads to the talk of Tebow’s future as a quarterback. Plenty of critics see him as an athlete or a novelty at best, despite his winning track record at Florida and with Denver last year. But for Goff, the weight gain is a questionable decision if Tebow wants to be throwing passes for a living.
“To me, it seems that Tebow is bulking up for his second career as a fullback, unless running two or three Wildcat plays a game is his idea of a career,” Goff said. “If he really wants to play quarterback full-time, why not slim down and put all his energy into becoming a better passer?”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.