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Schobel holds phone

4-20-02, 11:30 p.m.


For a guy who has all of 27 college receptions, Texas Christian tight end Matt Schobel found himself with plenty of suitors in Saturday's third round of the NFL Draft.

Enough that when Bengals President Mike Brown had less than five minutes on the clock to pull off a trade to move up and get what very well could be his starting tight end this season, Brown didn't bat an eye.

"Do it,:" Brown said. And with that the Bengals had swapped positions with Carolina in the third round and gave the Panthers their fifth-round pick in order to move up six slots from 73 to 67 in the third round.

That turned out to be a steal because moments later the Redskins swapped their third and traded a fourth to move up just two slots.

It's a good thing the Bengals moved because when his girlfriend came running out on the porch in Dallas to tell him that ESPN was saying the Bengals had taken him, Schobel was on the phone with the Detroit Lions.

Apparently the phone had been passed around the Lions' draft room a few times as they welcomed Schobel with the 68th pick. But the conversation ended abruptly.

"There were some curse words," Schobel said.

The Bengals swear they've got a 6-4, 260-pound guy who can make an immediate impact in the passing game and could very well supplant veteran Tony McGee as the Opening Day starter for the first time since McGee was selected in the second round in 1993.

It was one of those rare moments in the draft room when the offensive and defensive coaches patted each other on the back and said, "Good pick." Then several went up to Brown at the front of the room and said, "Good move, Mike."

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, who kept running his tape machine back and forth the past few months to make sure that the fluid-looking tight end actually weighed 260 pounds, was all smiles. The best player on the board happened to play a position he needs desperately.

"He runs routes better than some guys who have already been drafted," Bratkowski said. "And he can stretch the defense. He runs faster than 4.7 (in the 40-yard dash) and he'll be a competitive blocker."

Schobel joins a tight ends corps that hasn't had anyone with 30 catches in a season since 1997. McGee, who turns 31 Sunday, is coming off his second straight season-ending injury. Long snapper Brad St, Louis has only played in goal-line situations, Kirk McMullen came off the practice squad to finish out last year, and H-Back Nick Williams experiments with playing some tight end on the line at the May camps.

The other "rookie," is last year's third-round pick, Sean Brewer, who missed all last season with a groin injury.

"What we've got is two very good young guys," said Bratkowski, but it remains to be seen if they are good enough to jettison McGee's $1.3 million salary.

Schobel was good enough for the Bengals to trade up to get. Not only were they worried about Detroit, who lost David Sloan to free agency, but San Diego, which had lost Freddie Jones to free agency and held the 71st pick, and Chicago, picking at 72nd, has virtually no tight ends.

"We lost the fifth pick, but we felt it was worth it to get a guy we needed and we didn't think he was going to be there much longer," Brown said.

First-year Bengals tight ends coach John Garrett, who comes from a football family himself, can relate to Schobel. One of the reasons he liked him early in the scouting process is his "pedigree." The Bills took Schobel's brother, defensive end Aaron, in the second round last year. Another brother is a defensive end at TCU.

"He's going to challenge to start immediately," Garrett said. "He'll make an impact as a receiver immediately. Defenses will have to account for him. He's athletic, he's tough, he's big. He's got as good as hands as anybody."

Schobel knew the Bengals had a heavy interest and even before the draft he and his brother compared schedules. Yes, Matt's debut comes in the Aug. 9 pre-season opener in Buffalo.

"That's the first thing we said," Matt said when the pick came down.

Matt, who started at TCU as a quarterback, has been a tight end for two years and missed three games this season with a hamstring injury. He's known as a "receiving," tight end, "but I'm going to work on whatever I can to be better."

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