A.J. Smith heard all the talk leading up the draft about how he needed to add depth to his offensive line, and committed the gaffe of listening. If Smith would have closed his ears and opened his eyes, he would have seen that the Chargers depth chart was crowded already.
Even he seemed unsure about his selections afterward:
"Hopefully we made the right selections and time will tell," said Smith.
Earlier this off-season Smith re-signed Bob Hallen and David Brandt, two players capable of playing center or guard. He also has Kris Dielman under contract, a promising prospect that is just becoming comfortable at guard after playing primarily on defense in college.
At tackle the depth chart is even more cluttered. Smith signed Leander Jordan to a three-year contract prior to last season, and he is a dominating run blocker who can play on both sides of the line. Then there is Courtney Van Buren, the mammoth, yet agile, former third-round selection who is set to make a healthy return. There's also Carlos Joseph, who spent last season on the practice squad while being groomed for a larger role, as he has the ideal size and athleticism for the tackle position.
If all of the offensive lineman on the roster stay healthy and play to their potential, something that admittedly occurs only rarely, not a single one the blockers selected yesterday should even make the team. Wesley Britt has size and strength, but is stiff and awkward in space. Wes Sims is a powerful in-line blocker, but needs to improve his footwork and make the transition to a new position. Scott Mruczkowski is a hard worker and a solid pass protector, but he is less effective in the running game and struggles to make his second-level blocks.
When asked about Mruczkowski after he was drafted, head coach Marty Schottenheimer could only retort, ""Scott Mruczkowski has played guard and center and our expectation is he will be at center." Not exactly the glowing review we were hoping for.
The fact of the matter is that although Britt has a great frame and room to grow, he very well may have less talent and potential than Van Buren and Jordan possess. The Chargers do not want to keep five tackles on such a competitive roster, so someone has got to go.
On the inside, the Chargers prefer to keep one guard and one center who can take snaps at guard if need be. Dielman has been fighting all odds to maintain his spot for over two years, and Sims would seem a long shot to oust him now. As for the back-up center job, Hallen has proven himself and has been a starter at center and guard for this team in the past. It will be tough for a rookie seventh-round selection to beat him out in training camp, except in youth over veteran experience.
Smith would be wise to trade one or more of these bubble players in order to acquire a few extra picks in next year's draft. Otherwise, teams will just wait for cut-down day, as the Chargers will have to let some offensive linemen of good value go.
Either these incumbent reserves are good players or they aren't. If they aren't, trade them now. If they are, then why waste picks on their replacements? Creating competition is what un-drafted free agents are for, and is not something on which you invest three draft picks.
Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@SanDiegoSports.net
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