Getting Stephen Cooper to come back on a one-year contract at the veteran's minimum was a huge break. Cooper is one of the most intelligent players in the NFL and will be an ideal mentor for youngsters Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton.
While Cooper's willingness to embrace a teaching role is huge, it should be noted he still plays at a high level. Knee and shoulder injuries have slowed him in recent seasons, but playing fewer snaps should help him get the most out of his minutes.
It is also important to remember neither Butler nor Mouton has played a snap in a regular-season game. Their ability to make a difference on Sundays is no given; if they struggle, the Chargers have the luxury of turning to a veteran who has started 55 games since 2007.
A game to keep an eye comes Week 2 when the Chargers head to New England to face the Patriots. Who do you want going check-for-check with Tom Brady? Butler, making just his second career start? Or Cooper, who has outwitted the likes of Brady and Peyton Manning on more than one occasion?
The Numbers Game
A couple positions are already facing a numbers crunch.
WR Seyi Ajirotutu
C. Hanewinckel/U.S. Presswire
Kelley Washington is a force on special teams and an underrated receiver, but a knee sprain that will shelve him almost a month puts him in jeopardy. Free-agent pickup Laurent Robinson is also a candidate because of his speed and evasiveness, but he has yet to distinguish himself. Bryan Walters, a 2010 practice squad member who shined in the preseason opener, has also fought his way onto the radar.
The other supersaturated position is linebacker. The Chargers have four locks at outside linebacker -- Shaun Phillips, Larry English, Travis LaBoy and Antwan Barnes. There are more bodies trying to fit into the puzzle, including seventh-round pick Andrew Gachkar (huge potential on special teams), undrafted rookie Darryl Gamble (wreaked havoc against the Seattle Seahawks) and third-year man James Holt (versatile and aggressive).
There is a similar situation at inside linebacker, with Takeo Spikes, Donald Butler, Jonas Mouton and Cooper appearing as locks. Rookie free agent Bront Bird has looked great on special teams, but he needs to leapfrog last year's undrafted gem, Kion Wilson. Wilson has been hampered by an injury but has the look of a keeper when he's on the field.
Not since 2003, A.J. Smith's first draft as general manager, have the Chargers kept all of their draft picks on their opening-day roster. If Gachkar wins his battle at outside linebacker, there is a real chance that could happen this season.
The only other draftee on the bubble is Steve Schilling, the team's sixth-round pick out of Michigan. Schilling had a rough go in the preseason opener, getting flagged for a couple of penalties, but he has impressed the coaching staff with his physicality.
Fellow sixth-rounder Jordan Todman is no lock either, but he is the clear frontrunner for the No. 3 halfback position and seems likely to stick.
Keep in mind, the 2003 draft is generally considered one of Smith's worst, so it should not be considered a triumph if all this year's draftees make the final roster. However, there is a lot to like about this year's class and what it can do to offer depth and shore up the special teams.
Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.