AJ Smith Pre-Draft Press Conference

AJ Smith, in his first appearance since supplanting the recently deceased John Butler in any official capacity had his first press conference, dealing with the Draft which will occur April 26th and 27th in New York. It was not all draft talk as the first question dealt with Smith taking over the GM duties.

Do you want the GM job?

AJ Smith: First of all the Draft is so much on my mind after the draft I'm sure it will be addressed. Obviously John always had a theme since his illness business as usual and I think that a something we did in the whole time. Right now the draft is business as usual after that it depends on if I'll be a candidate or not. It's up to Mr. Spanos. Personally over the years I sure have. You wait for an opportunity and should come my way I will weigh and obviously and make a decision. It would be wonderful to be considered in any job of that magnitude. The draft right now is imperative. All of our people are in here right now and we are going all of the time. And I will be back at 1:00 and we will do it again.

Odd without John Butler?

AJ Smith: Very strange, 21 years to be with somebody talking about the draft, free agency and acquisitions building a football team and trying to win that championship and sharing that it's pretty tough. Obviously it's the day after we put him to rest. Very, very tough.

AJ Smith: The draft right now a something that is upon us it's underway and I am kind of filling in the shoes right now. assistant general manager I have been his right hand man, I have been involved in a lot of the decisions that were made but it has been strange the last couple of days sitting in his chair and not sitting next to him to where I used to say it and discuss things. It's a sensitive thing but business as usual. It's a statement a theme since John had his illness and we have carried that always room even when he was in the hospital. It's a business as usual to me that is a catch phrase word.

AJ Smith: It was a few weeks ago leading up to it but right now when you're in working environment and underway it helps you tremendously. You're sitting in a room and coordinating the draft effort and all the coaches and scouts 20 something people your mind is drifting. You are locked on to what you have to do and it is a great escape to be perfectly honest with you. I can't wait to be back to their not that I don't enjoy talking to you about these things bought at 1:00 I'll be so focused again it'll take me right through to 10:00 and that next day is a new day.

Never met a Draft he didn't like?

AJ Smith: Absolutely always have I know people talk about what the strengths are what the weaknesses are. The draft is the draft. There is all kinds of college football players out there and the teams will have anywhere between 6, 7 or more depending on how many picks you have. There is a lot of good football players out there. First rounder or seventh rounder, you are going to find somebody that's going to help you win. The challenge of that and the joy of evaluating, both the coaches and the scouts and management people to come up with somebody that you target and then you hope that he falls to you in the Draft. There is players out there, there really are. People have dissected it, ‘that's a weak draft, Oh boy it is going to be tough to get players.'

Strong positions, not so strong positions?

AJ Smith: I would rather not get into that because we are going to go out there and get the best players for the Chargers. People are going to ask is it offense, is it defense, I will go so far as to say there will be a defensive emphasis because of the situation that we have here. That is not to say we wouldn't pick an offensive player in the first two rounds and you all say, ‘What's he doing, I thought it was a defensive emphasis.' The defensive emphasis is something we are trying to look at, we think there is a problem area, we are going to address it. But we are trying to get the best football player regardless to help the Chargers. So you have the gameplan specifically for defense but as it unfolds, things come down the pipe that you don't expect and you have to be prepared for all scenarios. Quentin Jammer last year, we had him targeted to go to the Detroit Lions. That didn't happen; they went for a quarterback, things change. So you prepare yourself in the Draft and target a list of players that you want and you adjust on the run. A lot of phone calls come in all the time, constantly while you are on the clock. The phone is gonna ring, you are going to pick it up, things change. So what we like to do the Friday before, is we will spend the entire day from Friday morning to Friday evening with what we call scenarios. When our Draft is finished, we have a gameplan, we are prepared, we have targeted players and we go through "What-if?" "What if this? What if that?" I can't remember any scenario that comes in the past with a phone call, that we have not had in our minds and discussed and were ready to go.

We don't like surprises. You really, really don't want any surprises when the phone rings and there is all kinds of different scenarios. I know sometimes you will hear a team passes and everybody is wondering what is going on. We try and know exactly what we are going to do. We make a decision on that phone call on whether we are in or out of that scenario.

Possibility of trading down?

AJ Smith: Absolutely. Again that depends on a situation.

Trading up?

AJ Smith: Absolutely, we are open minded towards doing anything. We'll have a group of players at each round, a plethora of players, anywhere between 7 or 8 players and we will be prepared to see how it unfolds. If we feel we can trade out and we can get multiple picks so we have the opportunity to get more players, we will do that. If the plethora of players is there that we like. If you have seven players, the first player you like more then the seventh, but it doesn't matter to what degree, the bottom line is, are they players that we like that can help us win?

If it is a higher pick we need a guy who can come in and help right away and play. If it is a middle rounder then it could go either way. We could be pleasantly surprised and plug him in. Usually with the later round guys it might be a backup type, if we have an injury we can call upon that player to step in there or it could be a developmental type guy. We don't feel he can come into the NFL and have an impact, but boy in a year or two this guy has some tremendous upside. So there are different levels of thinking and then sometimes you are totally surprised. Sometimes it doesn't go by the gameplan. You try to bring in the best players that you can.

Jason Ball, the free agent. We all liked him, we think he has some great qualities, we think this, we think that. He is better than we thought he was. That's a pleasant surprise. That happens to a lot of teams in this league and then you want to avoid the part where you think it is someone special and they end up not being special. That is a nightmare of scouting, you have to identify players, bring them on your football team and they can't be here for a year or two, they've got to be with you over time and then a new draft comes. That's how you build a championship team. You have free agent acquisitions that you bring in, can't be for one year and you say, ‘Ah geez we made a mistake on him'. They have got to be people that come in and perform for you and grow with you and you just can't have turnover and make mistakes. Your team has to be held together, grow together. Your front office, your coaches support the management and I think that is how you build a football team.

Very rarely (did we disagree), and I think the reason for that is when you stick with someone for 21 years, your mindsets are the same. If you're opposite people, you get disenchanted with one another and you can't get on the same page and you go to another team. Once in a while there is a player that I'll like that he wont like or vice versa and usually what we will do is get some tape and break it down and we will go back and forth about what is it you like, what is it you don't like. But that is very, very rare. John's capacity as a GM over the years, I knew he had a lot of faith in me on the pro personnel end of it. Many years now I have been involved in that aspect of it, but I have been on the college scene with him in the early years, assistant director of college scouting with John. John was in college before he was a GM so we have gone on both sides of the fence, but it has always been players, college, pro, and we just want to find those players.

How much time invested in scouting?

AJ Smith: Prior to this year, not very much. Usually on the top players, John would ask me during the first couple rounds to do some studying on the top level players. Back in Buffalo we were both more involved in the college. With John's illness this year, July 4th when he was diagnosed and informed of that. John being a mans man and facing things directly, he knew exactly what he was dealing with here. I slid over him with more emphasis on the college with John in anticipation if things don't go well. So I have been really locked on particularly since January with doing evaluations. So this has been unusual, I really have been wearing two hats since July 4th to be perfectly honest.


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