Saviors In Waiting

As the San Diego Chargers season continues to unravel before our very eyes, General Manager AJ Smith must be wondering what in the name of all that is good and sacred is he going to do to put a quality product on the field in 2004. This team has many problems to fix, and he has so little time in which to fix them.

Fortunately for Chargers fans it is fairly easy to foresee what is coming this off-season. That is because the Chargers free agent and draft methodologies are more predictable than Cam Cameron's play calling. Each of the last three years the Chargers have found four new starters in free agency and at least one in the draft. Also, each year they sign at least two veterans to provide depth at key positions.

However, before Smith decides to find players to provide his team some answers, he needs to rid his team of the players raising the questions. Doug Flutie will be cut because of his age and his desires to return to play in the Canadian Football League. Tim Dwight will be cut because of his lack of height and Teflon hands. Stephen Alexander will be cut and no one but the trainer will notice. Raylee Johnson will be cut because of his advancing age and salary cap charge, which is in excess of eight million dollars. Then others such as Damion McIntosh, Darren Bennett and Zeke Moreno will just be allowed to have their current contracts expire.

So, after adding these voids to the list of the team's current deficiencies, Smith will be able to go to work. He will find himself in search of new starters at wide receiver, linebacker, defensive tackle, and left tackle. He will also need quality depth at defensive end and quarterback. Not to mention a new coach. Fortunately, the answers are out there. When Smith looks to see what he needs to turn this franchise back into a winner here is what he will find...

Wide Receiver
With so much already invested in an explosive downfield threat like Boston, the Chargers need a consistent number two who can be a productive possession receiver to be counted on in the clutch. This player should be young and have already experienced success in the league. This player is current Seahawk Darrell Jackson. This fourth year vet is on pace for his second thousand-plus yard season, and is the team's leading receiver. He does not have overwhelming size or blazing speed, drops some passes, but he is tough and knows how to get open.

Linebacker
With two linebackers on the roster with the speed to excel in this scheme (WLB Donnie Edwards and SLB Ben Leber), this team needs a third. The Chargers need someone who is a young playmaker; who can drop into coverage and rush the passer. This player is current Ram Tommy Polley. While slightly undersized, he can play all three linebacker positions, is tough against the run, while dynamite against the pass. Also, with the Rams once again needing their franchise tag to keep Orlando Pace, the Bolts will have a legitimate shot at this big time up-and-comer.

Defensive Tackle
The Chargers defensive tackles are mediocre at best. They need a player than can clog the run next to Jamal Williams on running downs, and who can collapse the pocket next to DeQuincy Scott on passing downs. This player is current Miami Hurricane Vince Wilfork. This is a three-hundred-and-fifty pound player who posted eight sacks from a rotational role last season. He will help the run defense, as well as the pass rush, not only through his own actions, but, by tying up blockers to enhance the rush from the outside. This is the Chargers first round pick.

Left Tackle
With Courtney VanBuren developing nicely at right tackle, the Chargers need to spend some big bucks to solidify a cheap but very effective offensive line. With no first round picks or big free agent pick-ups among next years projected starters thus far, it is time something big is done. The Chargers need an elite tackle that can give their quarterback time and who can open up some real holes for LaDainian Tomlinson. This player is current Seahawk Walter Jones. Jones has held out of training camp the last two seasons, and the Seahawks have grown so tired of this, they drafted his replacement this year in third round player Wayne Hunter. This should leave the Chargers free to make a run at this dominant performer. He could single-handedly improve the offense, and is young enough to play the duration of any long term contract. This would be an expensive buy, but it seems the Chargers have one of those every season, so this might as well be the one.

Quarterback
The Chargers need someone who can back-up Drew Brees and lead the team in case Brees' struggles continue. This player is current Buccaneer Shaun King. Here is a young player and great leader who is careful with the ball and has a cannon for an arm. He will be enough to push Brees, and maybe more.

Defensive End
The Chargers need a veteran end to spell Wiley from time to time, as well as someone with the speed to apply a pass rush. This player is current Cowboy Ebenezer Ekuban. Here is a former first round pick that has been labeled an underachiever. Working with defensive line coach Wayne Nunnely should fix that problem. His lack of production should facilitate a cheap signing, and his presence should help a defensive line in dire need of it.

Coach
The Chargers need a motivator. It must be someone with a new perspective and a new sense of energy to revitalize the team. This person must be able to get his young defense to grow together and must get the most out of his key players on offense. This man is current Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. Each year his defensive units maximize their talents and get stronger as the season wears on. Also, AJ Smith is familiar with him from their days in Buffalo. Cottrell has had three interviews for head coaching jobs so far, and it is time he finally gets his chance.

It is clear the Chargers have their work cut out for them. However, these signings could be salary-cap-plausible, and the number of them is not anything different than the Chargers have done in the past. It is just time the Bolts started signing the right people. With these moves, AJ Smith may finally get the push year he wanted. Because if the team continues in the direction it is heading now, AJ will find himself in a push year, as the Spanos family pushes him right out the door.

Mike Lombardo can be reached at ReneesGaydo@yahoo.com

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