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Tebow Drama Gives Draft a Stretch

OAKLAND - The analysis from ESPN began, "This is a stretch.'' Which was exactly what the NFL draft needed at the point Tim Tebow was selected.

A stretch, a jolt, excitement. Something more than another defensive tackle or offensive lineman.

"It's a really strong draft at the line of scrimmage,'' said Tom Cable, who coaches the Oakland Raiders, the most perplexing and unpredictable team in football, but the team that this year did something logical and rare.

It chose the excellent linebacker from Alabama, Rolando McClain. The kid gets high marks, but while linebackers and guards and cornerbacks win games they don't capture the imagination, not like quarterbacks.

You think Ben Roethlisberger would have been suspended for six games if he were a punt returner? Or a long snapper?

Ben had us thinking anything was possible on draft day, thinking he might be traded, even to the Raiders for Darren McFadden - "No way,'' said Cable. "How that started I don't know.''

It started, because draft day is always full of rumors, and Thursday, with the 75th NFL draft shifted to prime time on the east coast, there were hours to fill on talk shows with little except the repeated mock drafts, all beginning correctly with Sam Bradford.

Roethlisberger to Oakland? How delicious. Or maybe Jimmy Clausen high in the first round. That would keep our interest. But Ben still is in Pittsburgh. And after Day 1 of Draft 75, Clausen still is available. So is Colt McCoy.

However, Tim Tebow isn't. We give thanks to Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos for taking a step away from the crowd, for taking a chance when it seemed so many others in football only wanted to take a shot.

"In one of the bigger surprises of the draft ...'' That was one newspaper's description of the Broncos grabbing Tebow. And, thank heavens grabbing some attention.

I don't know if Tebow can work out of the T-formation. I don't know if he can throw the 30-yard out pattern. What all of us know is he won a Heisman Trophy and Florida won a great many games, including a couple of seasons back the BCS Championship Game.

The late San Francisco 49ers coach and general manager Bill Walsh used to talk about intangibles, the items not measured by stop watches or bench press repetitions. Some players have them. Some do not. The suspicion is Tim Tebow is in possession of those intangibles.

"Tebow is a long way from developing into a functional NFL quarterback,'' it said in the ESPN brief, "and he might never become that.'' Conversely, he might.

And in this era of questionable character, an issue raised once more with Roethlisberger's poor judgment in dealing with young women, Tebow gives a team a true role model.

Some of his religious zeal is a bit overbearing, especially to those who find themselves uncomfortable with evangelism. But that's about the only negative. If you don't start evaluating his passing motion.

His work ethic is remarkable. Quarterback mechanics can be corrected and refined. That's why teams have assistant coaches and virtually year-round workouts.

"I think I showed (the Broncos) I was willing to do whatever it took,'' Tebow said after he was selected with the 25th pick in the first round. "I'm going to give everything I can.''

That is a given. He will work. Whether he works out remains a question, but there are quarterbacks who were taken with the very first pick, such as JaMarcus Russell by the Raiders, who have proven to be ineffective, which is kinder than saying a bust.

"I think that's a good pick,'' McDaniels, the second-year Denver coach said in what might be labeled the height of immodesty. Then again, when everybody is questioning your sanity, or at least your football knowledge, a statement of self-preservation is acceptable.

"The player has all the traits you're looking for.''

McDaniels has all the courage we were looking for.

Someone needed to break the pattern. Even Bradford, as the safe No. 1, was a yawn. Then came a parade of tackles and guards and cornerbacks, all superb athletes, all necessary, but all seemingly interchangeable as personalities.

The biggest name, the most controversial name, was Tim Tebow, who at Florida threw 88 touchdowns and ran for 57 more but had the critics in full voice about his failings.

When would he go? Where would he go? Would he even go at all?

He's gone, to Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos. Now the draft can go back to the tackles and guards.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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