Oben Hopes to Shine in San Diego

Roman Oben has gone from a team that won the Super Bowl in 2002 to a team that is in the midst of a major rebuilding project, the San Diego Chargers.

Oben, a former Louisville Cardinal, was a serviceable tackle with Tampa Bay, but his broken hand injury last season, compounded by his age, 32 in October, and the general abysmal collective effort of the offensive line, prompted Bucs general manager Bruce Allen to accept a fifth-round draft pick from the San Diego Chargers for the eight-year veteran on June 9.

The Chargers offensive line is the biggest of several question marks for a team that went 4-12 last year and missed the playoffs for the eighth straight season.

No unit needs more cohesiveness and continuity than the offensive line, and the Chargers got rid of seven of their top linemen in the off season.

In Oben, San Diego gets a player who is a solid citizen both on and off the field.

"The bottom line is we need help, and we believe he can help," general manager A.J. Smith said. "We think he has a lot of good rubber left on his tires."

Oben was with Tampa Bay the last two seasons, starting for the Bucs in their Super Bowl rout of the Oakland Raiders in San Diego in January 2003. The Chargers will be his fourth team in nine seasons. He has started 106 of 113 career games.

Oben also played for the Cleveland Browns (2000-01) and the Giants (1996-99). He was New York's third-round pick in the 1996 draft.

"He's played in some pretty big football games," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "We feel like we've definitely upgraded on the offensive line."

Oben has a positive spin on the deal.

"I was surprised it happened later than it did," Oben said. "I am looking forward to helping the team move in a positive direction."

The Chargers also get a character guy who is known for his work in the community.

Throughout his NFL career, Oben has acknowledged the importance of becoming a positive influence wherever he was playing. Whether in New York (Giants), Cleveland (Browns) or Tampa Bay (Bucs), community involvement always has been rewarding.

Born in Cameroon, on Africa's West Coast, Oben returned home for a seven-day visit in March 2004. It was his first time back since a brief visit in February 1997. He didn't return empty-handed. Determined to make a difference in impoverished areas of Cameroon, Oben donated $10,000 to finance the tuition, books and renovations of two small elementary schools and a center for orphaned and disabled children.

"Anyone from a third-world country can appreciate this," Oben told the St.Petersburg Times. "It's the way of life, the dirt roads, the way people live, the things that we here in America really, really take for granted. I wasn't worried about my cell phone bill or who got kicked off The Apprentice when I was over there. I was thinking about what I needed to do and how people are living like this."

He had been planning the trip for years while getting his life in order in this country - his career (playing for three teams), personal (getting married and starting a family) and other logistical barriers prevented him from taking his program to Africa until this year.

He was careful about finding the right organization to help funnel his charitable donation. He wanted to work in conjunction with a reputable international charity foundation that would ensure his donations were legitimately used. He found one in LINK-UP Charity Foundations, which had a program in Cameroon.

"I was waiting for the right organization, one that I could trust," Oben stated. "If you send $10,000 to get something built, you don't want it swallowed up by some government worker."

A class act is coming to San Diego and Oben feels he has to put in some hard work to catch up.

"It is not so much a question of being behind, he said. "But how much I am willing to work to get comfortable with everyone else."

The line in San Diego has been a shambles and continuity on the o-line is very important.

"You just have to have communication with the guys playing next to you," Oben told SDBoltReport.com. "Doing blitzes and different kinds of things and just talking through it. Offensive linemen, the great lines have played together for a long time so you take a lot of things for granted. It is always good to have good communication across the front so you can be smart off the ball and be aggressive."

Oben also is looking forward to clearing the way for star running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

"I don't know if I can help him be any better running back than he already is," Oben observed. "It's good to be able to block - he is probably the best back I have ever blocked for. It is definitely a blessing to be in this situation."

Oben has had a taste of winning in Tampa Bay and thinks the Chargers can turn things around.

"I think it is just a matter of confidence, Oben explained. "I think there is a perception of how you have to act and the attitude but just being together as a team. You look at the teams that have a turnaround every single year. The Jets in 98, the Rams 99, as long as guys play together as a team and having that momentum early in the season. If you start off 3-1 in your first four games, you have that confidence and get better and better. You just want to start off fast. That gives the young guys confidence."

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