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Broncos roll dice on 'Mo'



Published: Tue, April 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



DENVER -- Boredom, arrogance, wisdom, insight, pick a motive. Whatever the reason the Broncos drafted Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, they at least got a nice conversation piece.

Can he run, can he dodge, can he mind, all of that shall be seen. What Clarett has already done is turn a tiresome flesh auction into something to stare at, like roadkill or a hippie wedding.

Here's how the Broncos' first day went -- cornerback, cornerback, cornerback, whoa!

Sitting at the curb with all of his baggage was the outcast poster child of college football just waiting for some fearless ride to come along and take him where the courts and his recent reviews have told him he does not belong, the NFL.

The freak value of Clarett is not to be underestimated, while his talent certainly may be. Is this the thundering Buckeyes freshman of national championship memory or the mud-slow snitch and royal pain of headlines and litigation?

Having only a few coins to flip these days, the Broncos tossed one and it came up tails, or heads, whichever it was that tempted Mike Shanahan to invite Clarett to join the long flourishing line of Broncos running backs.

Shanahan's legacy:success with RBs

We did not need Shanahan to remind us later that the Broncos have had a little success with running backs. But Shanahan did anyhow. And Shanahan gave Clarett a clean slate, never mind the pile of debris left behind by Clarett, little of which could be characterized as clean.

This is very simply a no-lose situation for the Broncos, and given the recent draft history of Shanahan, no-lose is almost as good as yes-win.

If Clarett turns out to be a bust, well he was, after all, not picked until 100 other players had gone.

And if Clarett becomes a substantial force in the NFL then the last happy chunk of Shanahan's reputation will get another boost -- that running backs are as disposable as they are interchangeable.

The choice of Clarett by the Broncos says more about Shanahan than it does about Clarett. Someone was going to give him a chance. Just not so early.

Clarett was projected by almost every one of those folks who do the projecting to be still curbside come the end of the first day, and maybe even after all the available choices had been picked over.

He would be a very late selection at best, a non-choice at most, his status defined not so much by his battles with the law and the NCAA and his old school but by his inability to outrun a stump from here to there.

The NFL has never really cared whether Clarett was a model citizen, that he ratted out his old coach, stumbled clumsily with misdemeanors, sued the NFL itself for early consideration (first won and then lost) and was denounced by the school he brought its first national title in 34 years.

Clarett preservedNFL farm system

All of that is just filigree, except for the suing part and no hard feelings there. In fact, the NFL can be grateful that Clarett bothered because it established a precedent in law that will keep the free farm system of college football from turning into the mess the NBA has made of college basketball.

What is important is if Clarett can play football, and no one really knows this since it has been going on three years that he has not. He was a pretty good college player at age 18, not particularly fast even then and disposed to assorted injuries that cost him about four full games.

These are things that can be weighed and measured, but what cannot be disregarded is Clarett's inclination to avoid taking the blame for anything. This is a trait that is hard to shake, as are NFL linebackers, most of whom are faster than Clarett.

So, here's a chance for Clarett to become celebrated for something other than being celebrated. Here's a chance, maybe the last chance. For him, not the Broncos.

Why take Clarett? Simple.

Couldn't hurt. Can't argue with that.

XBernie Lincicome is a columnist for the Rocky Mountain News. You can contact him at lincicomeb@RockyMountainNews.com.




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