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Eye on the spy: Why Julian Edelman holds the key to containing Tim Tebow

12.14.11 at 3:14 pm ET

FOXBORO — It’s sometimes considered desperation, but often times a necessary evil against a remarkably mobile quarterback: The art of employing a “spy” on an opposing signal-caller to keep containment and make sure he’s accounted for at all times, especially when he leaves the pocket.

There has to be a very special reason to take one of 11 players on defense and assign him to one offensive player at a time.

Tim Tebow is that special reason.

Twice on Wednesday, Bill Belichick mentioned Michael Vick when asked about Tebow’s mobility and versatility, and just how hard that is to replicate in practice.

“I don’€™t know another quarterback in the league who has Tim Tebow’€™s skills,” Belichick said. “Michael Vick and guys like that there are not a lot of them running around. Yeah, we won’€™t be able to get the same look that we’€™ll get on Sunday, no question.”

So, if the Patriots use a spy, who will it be?

“You need somebody that can tackle the quarterback,” Belichick said. “Depends on what the quarterback’€™s skills are. I don’€™t know if you want to spy [Ben Roethlisberger] Roethlisberger with the same guy you’€™d want to spy Michael Vick with. It depends on who the player is. There’€™s no point in spying him if you can’€™t tackle him. Whatever those skills are, you probably better find somebody ‘€“- if you’€™re going to put him on him, you better find somebody that can do it.”

Belichick will never reveal his plans, but Julian Edelman makes all the sense in the in this regard. He has the best speed on defense and has shown an uncanny ability to pursue the ballcarrier and make the tackle in the open field. All you have to do is go back to Eagles game in Philadelphia for proof. He made open field tackles on LeSean McCoy and Vince Young (filling in for Vick), with the tackle on Young coming in the open field.

“If you can get it done, then hopefully that eliminates that player as a runner,” Belichick said. “But you’€™re playing with 10 players, then you have one less guy to do whatever else you need to do. It just depends on what your priorities are.

“You can’€™t cover a receiver and spy the quarterback at the same time. You either spy the quarterback and don’€™t cover the receiver or you cover the receivers or cover a zone and don’€™t spy the quarterback.”

Something else to keep in mind, with a quarterback like Roethlisberger, Belichick has often used bigger, stronger defenders like linebackers to spy the QB. Why? Because Roethlisberger is more of a pocket passer and very hard to bring to the ground. Rob Ninkovich, Gary Guyton and Dane Fletcher are ideally suited in such cases. All three have above average speed with Ninkovich and Fletcher showing recently the ability to close on the runner.

“I think you just tell your D-line do their best to keep him contained and don’t let him out of the pocket,” Ninkovich said. “Whoever gets after him, you make sure you get after him and get him to the ground.

“Just keep him in the pocket and make sure he doesn’t get out of the pocket on you. Just know he can make plays with his feet. Keep him in the pocket and don’t let him beat you with his feet.

While Roethlisberger will certainly tuck the ball away and take off, it’s not his first choice. With Tebow, it’s just as likely he’ll call his own number on an option than stay in the pocket and look for a receiver downfield.

Of course, nothing is ever that straight forward with a Belichick defense. It will be interesting to see if Belichick employs a different version of the “spy” on Sunday and just how much he mixes it up for Tebow.

Also, don’t forget there isn’t a coach in the NFL that knows Tebow any better than Belichick. He and his staff scouted him out of Florida, where he played for Belichick’s very good friend Urban Meyer.

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Dane Fletcher, Denver Broncos



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