What a Job AJ Smith has done this year, all while not knowing if he would be promoted to GM or even be ushered out the door by some new, older, experienced player in the field of General Managers. And staying focused and doing a fantastic job all while his former star GM, boss, and mentor John Butler is heroically succumbing to a deathly cancer.
AJ had to head up a front office that could have easily fallen into chaos with such a situation. But no, this man took to the position of GM like an old pro. One could have never guessed this was just a rookie at this new position. He handled the Owners and their concerns, the media, the team, the fans, and his Great Boss with his dying wishes, all at the same time, while preparing for one of the most outstanding drafts I have ever witnessed.
Lets look at this team that AJ has rebuilt this year!
Coaches: AJ stood by the strength of his coaches that insisted the schemes were not the fault of the collapse. While having to deal with Star players that claimed it was, AJ made a very difficult decision to stand by the Coaches and their schemes, despite the onslaught of disgruntled fans and media. It has proven out to be a wise decision, by the fact that most of the defense that caused the mutiny has not found employment from other teams, except the very top stars. To have a winning team, the team must play as a one, and the Chargers weren't doing this. AJ made the right decision and strengthened the Coaches position with the team and strengthened himself in the public's and ownership's eyes as a wise and good GM.
Smith wasn't shy about cutting defensive backs Rodney Harrison, Ryan McNeil, Alex Molden, Rogers Beckett and Keith Lyle. Smith also peddled 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau to Miami.
Sammy Davis CB 1st round choice - Already has earned the starting position and will be a future star for years with the Charges.
Drayton Florence CB 2nd round choice- Already has earned the nickel CB position and could be used as a kickoff returner. This CB has outstanding speed and quick bursts with solid hands to catch many an interception for the Chargers.
Terrence Kiel SS 2nd round choice - Set back in the preseason as he was victimized by a shooting in car jack attempt, he never let it slow him down and walked into camp just a few days after it opened. This tough SS will be a starter before the year is out and will contribute every chance he gets. Showed flashes of stardom in the first game he played.
Courtney VanBuren OT 3rd round choice - Came from a small school, but has not let that bother him. He has progressed in camp to earn the backup job at OT on the 53 man roster, and showed his promise in the last preseason game.
Matt Wilhelm LB 4th round choice - Actually challenged for a starting spot at MLB this year as a rookie, he will be a player and will continue to challenge for the starting role. Looks to be an excellent player with a big future.
Mike Scifres P 5th round choice - Earned a roster position as Kickoff specialist, will be the future punter, and has the strength in his leg to be future All Pro punter.
Milligan FS 6th round choice - Showed toughness and speed plus the ability to be a playmaker. If not injured, would have made the active roster and could have found himself as a starter in short order. Should be a future star for the Chargers at safety.
Pinnock FB/RB 7th round choice - Versatility is his game; this powerful runner at 265 pounds can move like a RB with bursts, quick feet, and moves that make him actually a very good player at two positions.
That is an outstanding draft by AJ, the rookie GM. All eight draft choices have made the team and will make this team a much better team for years to come. This draft alone turned around a perennial weakness that seemed to never be properly addressed by former GMs of the Chargers.
The improvement in the defensive secondary alone makes me vote AJ as General Manager of the year, but he was not done, not by a long shot.
"Now we've got to see if these guys can play," Smith said.
David Boston WR - The top acquisition in Free Agency, he has improved this offense just by his presence, especially since the Chargers were really a one dimensional team last year. David Boston makes this offense very hard to defend and will open up the running game even more than last year!
Lorenzo Neal FB - Pro bowl FB and the best blocking FB in the league. Did I say running game? Watch out defenses your in much bigger trouble this year than last, believe it!
Solomon Page OG/OT - Outstanding acquisition. Not only a very powerful, even dominating, blocker, but he can play two positions and already knows the blocking schemes of an outstanding coach, Hudson Houck.
Kwamie Lassiter S - Can play both safety positions and has plenty of experience. He will be the Capitan of the secondary and mentor the new outstanding rookie DB's.
This would be a star year for any top Pro GM, but this rookie is not done yet!
Undrafted Free Agency:
Kassim Osgood WR - 6'5" in height this was AJ's admitted first phone call as soon as the draft ended. He landed a player that not only has made the team, but also will contribute this year. I think he will be a #2 WR in this league, and in the not so distant future.
Phil Bogle OT - What another find in UDFA. Last year wasn't a miracle enough with Jason Ball, are we to expect this every year. Fans can get spoiled AJ. When most GM's couldn't be bothered, AJ finds real gems in UDFA and Bogle is another one. Bogle can play either OT or OG and has shown the ability to dominate, yes even as a rookie.
Antonio Gates TE - Where did this guy come from, did he ever even play football, AJ must have gone crazy with all the work. Well Gates made the team and is already flashing talent that proves he may very well be that starting and dominating TE the Chargers offensive system needs.
Jacques Cesaire - DT surprised many by making the 53 man roster, but it just shows AJ has brought talent to the D-line because Omari Hand was vying for a roster position and showed very well in preseason, but was beat out by Cesaire.
With an outstanding PS of Hand, Hoambrecker, Mattos, Dielman, and Lemon, AJ proved he is the man for the job of GM.
"Our hope is that our youngsters grow up together, and they do it quickly," Smith added.
AJ has already had a Pro Bowl year for a GM, all this from just a rookie!
AJ I believe you know what you are doing and I believe you when you say this is the "Big Push Year". I think you have put together a team that will not only win, but also make the playoffs this year and many years to come. Way to go AJ!
T.S. Heers can be reached at email@example.com
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