Tackling The Truth

Ever since the Butler-Smith tandem migrated westward and headed San Diego bound back in early 2001, there has been one thing us Chargers fans have been able to count on. That one thing is a great draft. With their first two draft classes producing nine of the Chargers twenty-two current starters, perhaps great is an understatement.

This years draft appears to be equally spectacular.

Sammy Davis, Terrence Kiel and Matt Wilhelm each possess a chance of cracking the starting lineup by opening day.

Drayton Florence, recently said to have a stranglehold on the starting cornerback spot, and Hanik Milligan provides excellent depth in a previously very unstable secondary. And Mike Scifres and Andrew Pinnock will be the Bolts kickoff and short yardage specialists, respectively.

However, one draft pick, the third round selection of Arkansas Pine-Bluff offensive tackle Courtney Van Buren, has been criticized and mocked blatantly.

The critics have called the pick a reach. Skeptical Chargers fans have called it a flash back to the Bobby Beathard era, where small school picks in the early rounds were the norm. But, unfortunately for anyone who actually sees the true genius behind this pick, these critics and skeptics will likely not be silenced until next season.

Here is why the pick was such an excellent one. First of all, starting left tackle Damion McIntosh will be a free agent after the season, and will not re-sign for less than the five year, fifteen million dollar deal Cory Raymer got last offseason, meaning a cap charge of at least three million dollars.

Second, starting right tackle Vaughn Parker is already thirty-two years old, has started a full sixteen games only four times in his ten year career, and will have a salary cap charge of nearly 3.5 million in 2004.

Also, both players were on the roster before John Butler rode into town. Seeing the maddening rate of turnover that has occurred since that time, neither can feel as if they are standing on safe ground.

The fact of the matter is, at least one of these two will not be on the roster after this season.

Fortunately, Courtney VanBuren possesses the quick feet to take over for McIntosh in protecting Drew Brees blind side, and also has the size and strength to be the classic run blocking mauler Marty would like to see lining up at right tackle.

This is a guy that is six foot six, three hundred and fifty pounds, and still runs the forty yard dash in an amazing 5.3 seconds! Not to mention his 450 pound bench press and 550 pound squat! I don't care how small of a school he went to, those are some incredible numbers.

I understand that playing against a lower level of competition, along with playing half of his college career out of position while lining up at guard, does make him a project. However, when you take a project with his kind of ability and natural explosion, and give him two offseasons of training and conditioning, two Marty Schottenheimer led training camps, over a year under the tutelage of the much renowned Hudson Houck, and a season to sit and learn behind three established veterans, suddenly that project isn't such a risk.

Next year, the Chargers will say good-bye to one, or both, of their starting tackles. This will first and foremost save precious salary cap room, but don't think for one second that it means the team will be rebuilding. Because not only will they be saving money, but they will also be able to significantly upgrade the talent level on their offensive line from within. Because once Courtney reaches his potential, and trust me when I say that this coaching staff will make certain that he does, he has the ability to be something special.

So next year, while the Chargers are watching their offensive line improve via youth and well groomed talent, and are trying to find a way to further improve their team by using the over three million dollars in cap room they are sure to save, then you can write me back and tell me again what a bad pick Courtney Van Buren was. But until that time, just quit your complaining, sit back, relax and enjoy.

Your team is in good hands Chargers fans.

-Michael Lombardo

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