Khalif Barnes would love to come home to San Diego

The last time the Chargers drafted an offensive lineman in the first round was in 1986, when the team selected offensive tackle James FitzPatrick from USC. Considering the facts that starting left tackle Roman Oben is 33 years old and left guard Toniu Fonoti is in the last year of his contract, it is about time the Chargers spent a first-round pick on their offensive line.

One prospect that has piqued the Chargers' interests is Khalif Barnes, an offensive tackle from the University of Washington. The Chargers would have loved to steal Barnes with the 28th pick in the draft, but may have to take him at number 12 if they want to nab one of the fastest risers in this year's draft. And Barnes would be just as excited to see that happen. He is certain he could excel in the Chargers system.

"I think a system like that would be good," Barnes said. "I want a quarterback to know he doesn't have to worry about the blind side that I'll be there to help him out and in turn to know that the quarterback is calm in knowing that he has time to get the ball off, and in turn with that, playing with good left guards.

Toniu Fonoti is playing left guard for the Bolts and is coming into his own as a dominant force on the line. An unstoppable tandem on that left side could secure the future of the position for a long time.

Barnes' familiarity with the Chargers extends past the line and into the backfield. Knowing well the capabilities of the Chargers offense, Barnes believes he would be an ideal fit in helping the number three scoring offense in the league become even better.

"I played against Drew Brees in the Rose Bowl a couple of years back and I think he's coming into his own as a quarterback. Just knowing that you have faith in your quarterback and your quarterback has confidence in his left tackle to protect his backside creates some good chemistry. I think a system like that would be good.

"Passing off gains, D-linemen twists, knowing that you have a solid left guard, I think you can do a lot of damage, similar to Walter Jones and the left guard he has, Steve Hutchinson. When you get that tandem working I think you have a pretty good line. I see myself just like that."

Barnes still has work to do, especially when it comes to staying consistent with his leverage. Considering his impressive size, about 6-foot-5 and a half, staying under his opponents pads is understandably a struggle.

"Playing low and getting real constant wingspan and playing beneath the other guy's pads is going to be a key for me," allowed Barnes.

Though there is still work to be done, Barnes is ready for the challenges that lie ahead. The first such challenge will be adjusting to a new system, and possibly even a new position. Scouts have had Barnes work at both tackle positions so far this off-season, and some have even asked him about moving inside to guard. Barnes is open-minded about changing positions, but knows where he would play if given the choice.

"The position I'm most comfortable at and the position I think would be best for me at the next level would be left tackle, just because the design of the position," Barnes said. "You go against the most athletic guy on the defensive line."

A true left tackle with that kind of competitive mindset is hard to find. The Chargers could happily select him with their second pick in round one if he is still available, and let him learn behind Oben for a year or two. This would seem to be the ideal situation for both Barnes and the team.

Barnes would be able to stay at left tackle, and would be given time to adjust to the speed of the NFL game. The Chargers, on the other hand, would have added depth and youth to their offensive line, while stabilizing one of the game's most pivotal positions for years to come. Even Barnes' agent Kenny Zuckerman agrees.

"I think Khalif would look great on the left side of the Chargers," Zuckerman said.

Don't we all.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@SanDiegoSports.net

Denis Savage contributed to this report


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