Juggling playing time between two quarterbacks within a game is never easy, but Urban Meyer has made it work before.
His 2006 Florida team featured Chris Leak, a senior pocket passer. Leak was less than a perfect fit to run the zone read offense Meyer has become known for.
To solve that issue, Meyer turned to a freshman ranked as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation who entered the program with a reputation more for running than throwing.
Tim Tebow threw only 33 passes during that season, but played a key role in the Gators’ march to the national title. He saw action situationally in all 14 games, throwing for 358 yards and 5 touchdowns, and rushing for 469 with 8 scores.
Tebow was a battering ram featured mainly in short yardage and the red zone. His powerful running created issues for opposing defenses, and set up easy, short scoring passes when they got too aggressive.
He was at his best in some of Florida’s biggest games, throwing two touchdowns on two pass attempts against LSU, and scoring the Gators’ first touchdown of the game in a comeback win over Alabama.
In the National Championship against Ohio State, Tebow ran the ball 10 times for 39 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a 1-yard touchdown pass just before halftime that basically put the game away.
Tate Martell isn’t exactly the same player that Tebow was. He’s a redshirt freshman who entered college as the country’s No. 2 dual-threat quarterback.
Like Tebow, he was also known more for his legs than his arm.
But he’s at least 5 inches shorter, and more than 25 pounds lighter. He is a dangerous runner due to speed and elusiveness, not brute force.
But in many ways, Martell could fill the Tim Tebow role 12 years after Meyer first trotted it out.
This spring Martell said that the coaches had already told him that he would see the field in certain situations.
“That’s already been confirmed. There will be packages if I don’t win the starting job,” he said.
It would make a lot of sense for the coaching staff to capitalize on Martell’s agility and ability to make defenders miss in the most crucial portion of the field, the red zone.
In a tight area packed with defenders, that could open up the passing game for easy scores, just as it did with Tebow.
“Being able to make plays, make people miss, and stuff like that. That’s where I’m at my best,” Martell said. “Just adding that element to the game where you’ve got to add an extra guy to guard me when it comes to running the ball, where it takes him out of pass coverage.”
Martell’s role could change somewhat depending on whether Joe Burrow or Dwayne Haskins is named the starting quarterback this fall.
“He brings a little different skill set to the table, which is really good,” Day said.
“Tate’s dynamic with his feet. He’s really competitive. If you’re picking out a game, whatever game that is, he’s gonna try to find a way to win and take you out.”
Martell had a nice day on the ground during the 2018 Spring Game, rushing 11 times for 69 yards and a score. However, his passing was inconsistent, going 5-for-16 for 28 yards through the air.
That won’t necessarily keep him from succeeding this fall.
Tim Tebow’s game was pretty one-dimensional in 2006. In games against SEC teams and the Buckeyes, Tebow rushed the ball 73 times and threw only 12 passes. He was predictable, but effective.
After Leak graduated, Tebow took over the starting job and turned into one of the greatest players in college football history. He won a Heisman and his second national title.
Martell has been living with Tebow-level hype for a while, but has a long way to go to reach those milestones. This fall is a chance for him to take the first step to Tebow-level production as well.
Fortunately, he already has a coach who knows how to get there.