NEW YORK (AP) — So, you’ve got two big-time quarterbacks and plan to play them both throughout the season. Well, good luck with that.
In the NFL, that kind of thinking has mostly added up to double trouble.
Two-quarterback systems have rarely worked in the pros, but the New York Jets will test that theory with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow this season. And no matter what the critics — who include President Barack Obama — say about having Tebow and Sanchez on the same team, the Jets are willing to find out if two quarterbacks are better than one.
“We have a starting quarterback who’s as clear-cut a starting quarterback as other teams have,” coach Rex Ryan said. “It’s Mark Sanchez, our starting quarterback. But we have an athlete and a special talent in Tim Tebow that allows us to do different things that maybe other teams don’t have. So we’re going to play Tim Tebow, because it’s going to help us.
“It’s going to help our football team win games. That’s how I feel about it.”
New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and the Jets (No. 17 in the AP Pro32) have made it clear that what they have is not technically a two-quarterback system where the players rotate, but rather a system that includes two quarterbacks. There will likely be times, particularly on third-down and goal-line situations, when Sanchez will come off the field for Tebow. Whether or not that’s as part of the wildcat package — the Jets’ top-secret scheme designed for Tebow — remains to be seen.
But, one thing’s for sure: This could be one messy situation if it doesn’t all work.
“In a normal world, it might be easier to manage,” said former NFL quarterback and league MVP Rich Gannon, now an analyst for CBS Sports and SiriusXM NFL Radio. “But because it’s Tim Tebow, because he’s such a dynamic persona with almost like a cult following, I think it’s going to be really difficult for the team to manage and juggle this whole thing. I mean, the minute the offense struggles and Sanchez struggles, the crowd is going to go crazy and people will be calling for Tim Tebow.”
That’s the exact scenario many fans and media are predicting, maybe by Week 5 or 6.
“If Mark plays well, they’re scoring points and winning games, there’s not going to be a big Tim Tebow show,” said Gannon, the 2002 NFL MVP. “But, if they’re not, you’re going to see more Tim Tebow, and it’s going to be hard to manage the Tebowmania. I’m just a little skeptical of how this is going to work out for the Jets.”
General manager Mike Tannenbaum saw firsthand what Tebow could do as the then-Broncos quarterback led a last-minute comeback for a victory over the Jets in Denver last season. When Tebow became available, he met with Ryan, Sparano and owner Woody Johnson and they all decided the backlash was worth bringing in one of the league’s most exciting players.
“In Tim’s case, just like most of them, you think it out, go through the plusses and minuses and measure twice and cut once,” Tannenbaum said. “With that said, if we felt it was the right football decision, we’ve got to manage the other part of it, knowing that it was going to be a challenge. I think we’re a really strong organization that can handle the ancillary attention that Tim brings.”
A handful of teams over the years have tried to make use of two quarterbacks, mostly with negative results. Since the 2000 season, when Baltimore benched Tony Banks midway through and used Trent Dilfer to win the Super Bowl, the last 11 champions each had clear-cut starting quarterbacks who rarely left the field for anything other than an injury.
“Of the teams we talk about in January, how many of them have gone this route?” Gannon said. “Not a lot.”
But most teams also don’t have backup quarterbacks with quite the skill set Tebow offers, either.
The Los Angeles Rams might have been the first to have success with rotating quarterbacks, splitting time between Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield — and playing in three straight NFL championship games from 1949-51. All those victories didn’t necessarily breed happiness, though, as Van Brocklin wasn’t pleased about sharing the field and eventually asked for a trade.
Oakland tried it with Daryle Lamonica and George Blanda in the late-1960s and early 1970s, with Blanda mostly serving as the kicker but also coming out to throw an occasional touchdown pass against opposing defenses that planned all week to face Lamonica.
Tom Landry had so much trouble trying to decide between Roger Staubach and Craig Morton as Dallas’ quarterback that he decided to use both during the 1971 season. The two quarterbacks even rotated on every play during a game against Chicago, with each man running in with the next offensive call.
“Well, it was a problem because it divided the team and Coach Landry realized that in ’71, when actually Craig and I alternated games, and a lot of guys believed in Craig, and a lot of them believed in me,” Staubach recalled. “It’s not a good situation.”
Landry went with Staubach after the Bears game, and he led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory while carving out a Hall of Fame career. Morton, meanwhile, was traded to the Giants in 1974, and then to Denver three years later to finish a solid career.
“It makes it tough,” Staubach said. “The fans were divided on Morton and I, too, and the team, (the) players. They knew Craig when he was with Don Meredith, and Craig’s a great guy. I didn’t want to be a backup quarterback, so either I was going to get a chance to start, or I would have been traded.”
Miami had its “WoodStrock” combination in the early 1980s, when the Dolphins used David Woodley as the starter and had Don Strock come in as a “relief” quarterback if he was ineffective or struggled. The Dolphins even nearly won a playoff game that way, as Strock entered a playoff game against San Diego down 24-0 in the third quarter before tying it and eventually losing 41-38 in overtime.
How the Jets use Tebow likely won’t be fully revealed until the regular season, when games matter and the offense is doing whatever it can to put points on the scoreboard. If Sanchez is ineffective behind an underperforming offensive line, Tebow’s scrambling ability could be exactly what the offense needs to get going.
“Look, you wouldn’t do this to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees,” Gannon said. “Let’s just be honest. It affects the rhythm and the timing of the offense, and that’s going to be the challenge for Rex and Tony Sparano. I’m interested in seeing how this all plays out.”
It could lead to a full-blown quarterback controversy. Just like the one the Cowboys had with Staubach and Morton. Or, the 49ers had with Joe Montana and Steve Young, or the Cowboys with Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh. Or, even the Steelers with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Gilliam.
“It’s a little different in that the Jets are using (Tebow) in a special, whatever they call that, wildcat deal, and all that,” Staubach said. “I don’t know if Tim is going to like that, I mean, if he wants to be a quarterback the rest of his career.”
Chad Pennington, a former Jets quarterback who finished his career in Miami, would come off the field at times when Sparano — then the Dolphins coach — put running back Ronnie Brown under center to run the wildcat in 2008. He insists the bottom line is winning, no matter how uncomfortable or unconventional it may be for Sanchez, Tebow and the Jets.
“The key to the whole system is that the players make it their own,” Pennington said. “As long as they take ownership of the system and handle it right in the locker room, it can be a neat story and a good solid successful story for them going into the season.”
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed to this report.
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.