Saturday February 27th, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS --Dispatches from Day 2 of the NFL's Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium, on a day we consider all things quarterback-related ...

• The first round of the NFL draft is still almost eight weeks away, and already there is a drumbeat building the St. Louis Rams will eventually realize they have to take a quarterback like Oklahoma's Sam Bradford with the No. 1 pick because the value of that position at the top of the draft far outweighs the value at defensive tackle, and all other positions. The talents of Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy notwithstanding.

It's somewhat of a curiously timed argument to make, given that defensive tackles received three of the league's six franchise-player designations this week, with a fourth defensive tackle, Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton, being re-signed by the Steelers to avoid franchising him. Clearly someone in the NFL believes defensive tackles are pretty high up in the pecking order when it comes to positional value.

The man who has been thrust into the vortex of the quarterback-versus-defensive tackle debate in St. Louis, Rams general manager Billy Devaney, made his appearance in the NFL Scouting Combine media room Friday morning and got plenty of chances to explain his thinking on the positional value front. In general, Devaney said that quarterbacks rule, but there are exceptions to be made. Say for instance, the quarterback turns out to be Ryan Leaf, whom Devaney helped draft in San Diego in 1998, and the defensive tackle turns out to be Warren Sapp.

If only the Rams could see around that particular corner before they have to turn in their selection card on April 22.

"Maybe as a rule,'' said Devaney, when I asked him if it's tougher to make the case for taking a defensive tackle first overall. "But when you need players that you deem difference-makers, I don't think it makes any difference what position they play. We may be wrong, but we think these two kids [Suh and McCoy] that we're talking about are difference-makers and they impact the game. So them being defensive tackles doesn't bother us at all.''

Which is not the same as saying the Rams intend to pass on a quarterback like Bradford or even Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen to take Suh or McCoy. Devaney said the Rams have just begun their information gathering and have "a long way to go'' to reach a decision. Media speculation in recent days says St. Louis will end up with a quarterback atop the draft, but I'm just wondering how much that will change if the Rams make a trade for Michael Vick sometime next month? Or is that particular slice of media speculation no longer operative and I didn't get the memo? According to Devaney, the Rams haven't talked with the Eagles about Vick or any other Philly player.

It seems to me there are still plenty of moving parts remaining before the Rams are in position to make a final decision. There's the all-important medical clearances that have to be granted for Bradford (shoulder) and Clausen (toe), their pro day workouts, their private workouts, a possible trade or quarterback signing by St. Louis, and then the whole process of falling in or out of love with one of the four likely choices as the pre-draft scouting process intensifies.

"You can't force the issue,'' Devaney said. "At some point, we need to address the quarterback situation. If it gets down to we think the defensive tackles are far and away the highest-rated players in the draft, you can't force it and say, 'Hey, we've got to get a quarterback and drop way down on your value.' But that's what we're trying to figure out right now.''

All that said, you'd be foolish to throw any water on the idea that the QB-needy Rams will end up taking a quarterback, because who wins in the NFL without a viable option at that position? And no, we don't consider Marc Bulger returning for another year as the St. Louis starter to be viable. If St. Louis gets to the draft without adding any veteran quarterbacks who factor into the starting equation, the pressure to take Bradford or Clausen could grow exponentially. And Devaney knows it.

"Let's say the defensive tackles are graded 7.0 and the quarterback was 6.9,'' Devaney said in a later side session with a handful of reporters. "Is that close enough to take [the QB]? All things equal, you're going to take the quarterback. If [the QB grade is]a little bit lower, you probably go with the quarterback. But I know this, the two defensive tackles -- and we haven't put a final grade on the quarterbacks yet -- are way, way up there.

"The defensive tackles are difference-makers and we have them graded extremely high. But I have a feeling at the end of the day, the quarterbacks are going to be, if not right there, they're going to be within striking distance so that you have to think about taking them. Because of [the value issue].''

That sounds like quarterbacks rule to me, but again, it's a bit early to know for sure if the Rams have a passer or a pass-rusher on their brain. When you add in the element that Devaney and Co. pretty much have to nail this pick in order to ever get the chance to oversee another Rams draft, the intrigue level surrounding the No. 1 choice in St. Louis this spring should be sky high.

Maybe this won't be an uneventful draft season after all.

• You may have heard, but Tim Tebow is working on his throwing mechanics. It probably won't rival the advent of soccer-style kicker Pete Gogolak in terms of revolutionizing the NFL, but you wouldn't know that from the size of the media throng that peppered Tebow with every imaginable question here Friday afternoon.

Someone asked Tebow if this a tweak or an overhaul we're talking about?

"It's more like a tweak,'' he said. "It's not necessarily changing my whole motion, just the way I'm holding the ball and kind of how I'm getting to where I'm throwing it. That's kind of the biggest problem we've seen, so that's what we're working on the most.''

That may not be a case of changing his whole motion, but that sounds like the most of it to me -- the way he holds the ball and how he gets it to where he's throwing it. In other words, after he releases the pass, everything is status quo.

Tebow won't be showing off his new throwing motion here of the combine, of course. He'll save that for Florida's pro day in Gainesville on March 17. He said he's holding the ball higher these days, and not dropping down with it as was his custom in college.

"It's not getting that loop in my release is what I'm working on,'' Tebow said. "But my release point of where I'm actually throwing the ball is not different at all.''

I asked Tebow what he made of all the folks saying he might require a "redshirt'' season or two in the NFL until he's ready to play quarterback in the league, and he said he tries not to listen to too many things in the media right now. But that's not really the media's talking point, I reminded him, as much as it is league personnel evaluators. One NFL general manager on Friday called himself a Tebow fan, but said he'd benefit most if a team like the Colts or Patriots drafted him and "kind of redshirted him for almost two years.''

"Whenever I get with a team, I'm going to do whatever that coach asks me to do,'' Tebow said. "If that's work on what I need to work on for two years, then that's what I'm going to do. But that's not going to be the goal. I want to be the best player I can, so you tell me what I have to do to do that. And then I'll start working on that.''

If I had to put a buck down right now on what round Tebow will go, I'd say the third, with a shot at moving up into the second if he shows progress with his new mechanics at his pro day workout. And for the record, the Colts and Patriots do sound like the best possible places he could land.

• There certainly seems to be growing momentum for the continuation of the Jason Campbell era in Washington. New Redskins Mike Shanahan told us Friday the team intends to tender Campbell as a restricted free agent next week (he didn't say, but probably at $3.2 million and first and third-round compensation). He also said he expects Campbell "to be here'' this season.

That's just smart football, and it doesn't preclude Washington from taking a quarterback of the future in the draft, by any stretch of the imagination. Now if the Redskins try to re-sign Campbell to a new long-term deal, that's a different story. But a one-year tender offer or even a two-year deal doesn't give Campbell much more security than he currently has.

• Shanahan was in talks with the Bills about their head coaching job last fall, but he all but admitted Friday that it was a move he was never going to make. As if we hadn't figured that out yet.

"There was strong consideration,'' Shanahan said. "But at the end of the day, it was not something that -- I want to put it in the right words: If I went to Buffalo to live there, from my family perspective, I think I'd be the only one that'd go. My wife and kids wouldn't go.''

Quickly dropping into damage-control mode, Shanahan added: "Strictly to do with the weather, that's it.''

Tell that to the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce.

• Notre Dame's Golden Tate is one of the draft's shorter receivers, but he's not short on confidence in his game. Asked to compare himself to a current NFL receiver, he chose Carolina's Steve Smith and Minnesota's Percy Harvin, not a bad neighborhood to be in.

"A lot of ya'll probably think the same thing,'' Tate said, of his Smith self-comparison. "Similar size, similar build, very physical, not afraid to go over the middle. I model my game after him. ... Also, a newcomer to the game in Percy Harvin. I like what Minnesota has done with him this year, moving him all around -- in the backfield, in motion, the Wildcat. Hopefully a team will see that in me and hopefully draft me.''

From what I hear so far from NFL sources, the Harvin comparison is legit. Harvin's rookie success in 2009 makes Tate more attractive as a potential second-round pick.

• As if Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant didn't miss enough football due to his season-long NCAA suspension last year, he let it be known Friday that he won't be working out at the combine due to tweaking his hamstring last week. He'll save his workout for the Oklahoma State pro day on March 10 in Stillwater.

Listening to Bryant explain what it has been like to answer the questions posed by NFL teams about his suspension confused me. Asked if it was difficult to answer the questions about why he lied to the NCAA about going to Deion Sanders' house, Bryant said: "I haven't heard it much. But it's not difficult at all.''

In the next breath, Bryant said it was easier to explain the reason behind his suspension because "I accepted the fact. I heard it so many times, I just got better at it.'' He said he told NFL teams he "misled the NCAA about going out to Deion Sanders' house. I apologized for it and I'm back on track and ready to go.''

Except he isn't this week. He's laid up and waiting for March 10 to work out. So there's that.

Lovie Smith, coaching for his job in 2010, decided he had nothing to lose in pairing new Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz with Chicago's sometimes mercurial starting quarterback, Jay Cutler. Some folks see a train wreck coming for that particular tandem, but Smith sees no trouble on the horizon.

"Mike will be fine,'' when asked about Martz's headstrong ways. "All coaches have a strong personality. Some come out a little more. Jay will like Mike's offensive mind. All quarterbacks like working with a guy like that, who knows a lot more football than they do and can teach them an awful lot.''

You mean like Cutler did with Josh McDaniels in Denver?

• No more calls, we have a winner. It's only Friday and already Devaney has authored the quote of the combine. When asked about rumors that St. Louis is interested in trading its best player, running back Steven Jackson, the Rams GM shot them down rather comically:

"We need more players like Steven Jackson. We can't be poop-canning him out of the building. We've got to get some guys like that in. No, there is no talk about trading Steven Jackson and there won't be any.''

Poop-canning. First time usage in the English language as far as I know.

• And that wasn't even Devaney's lone zinger of the day. Asked about ESPN's Adam Schefter guaranteeing this week that St. Louis would take Bradford first overall in the draft, Devaney said:

"That took a lot of pressure off us right away because Dr. Schefter cleared him medically, we feel really good about the health status of Sam Bradford now with Dr. Schefter giving him a clean bill of health and guaranteeing our pick. So we're on to the second round right now.''

Who knew you could survive a 1-15 season with your sense of humor intact?

• With the race for the 2014 Super Bowl -- the next available one -- being down to Miami, Tampa and New York as of Thursday, when Arizona somewhat surprisingly pulled out of the running, league insiders believe New York's bid is approaching rock-rolling-downhill status.

Get ready, NFL fans. An open-air Super Bowl in the northeast is going to happen. With the league having given South Florida a pair of recent Super Bowls, and the Tampa Bay area having had the game as recently as February 2009, New York has virtually no serious competition for the XLVIII version of the NFL's big event.

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