Bargain-Basement Boomers

After the Chargers got a much needed win last weekend over the rival Raiders, everyone was singing the praises of LaDainian Tomlinson, and deservedly so. After all, he became only the sixth player in NFL history to run, catch and pass for a touchdown in the same game.

However, the real heroes of the game were the other guys, a group I like to call A.J. Smith's bargain-basement boomers. These players are the middle-tier free agents found by Smith who have come in and helped carry the team.

The first such player is Bhawoh Jue, the team's lone free agent acquisition during the offseason. He has stepped in and become the top playmaker in a secondary filled with three cornerbacks who were former first-round draft picks. He leads the team with three interceptions, and has the range and power that were missing in last year's starter, Jerry Wilson.

"You continually do what you are supposed to do every play," Jue said of his mindset going into each game.

The second player in this bunch is Leander Jordan, who started at right tackle for the Chargers on Sunday due to an injury to Shane Olivea. Jordan, a former third-round pick from Indiana (Pa.), had spent four years - mostly as a reserve - with the Panthers and Jaguars. Smith signed him to a three-year deal prior to the 2004 season, and the move is paying dividends now. On Sunday, Jordan helped the team rush for 190 yards against a Raiders defense was allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game heading into the contest.

"I was proud of the way he stepped up," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

The final player in this grouping is Steve Foley. Smith signed Foley to a three-year contract prior to the 2004 season, and Foley played so well that he had his contract extended three more years before the 2005 season got underway. Foley lead the team with 10.5 sacks last year, and is currently tied with DeQuincy Scott for the team lead with 2.5 quarterback takedowns.

"Being aggressive, that is what being a defensive player is all about," said Foley. "Kind of like a kid who has been neglected all his life, you want to go out and show something."

There is a common trend with each of these players: each of the three started less than five games during his final season with his former team, and still Smith saw something in them that inspired him to bring them aboard.

Sunday's win over the Raiders is the perfect example of why this kind of in-depth scouting is so vital. Each member of this trio of bargain-basement boomers started the game, and each made big plays in bringing home the win.

Smith has taken a lot of flak so far this year, after basically suspending Antonio Gates for the season opener and failing to reach a contract extension with the ultra-deserving Donnie Edwards. But if there ever was a time to throw some praise Smith's way, this is it. Because he found these diamonds in the rough, the Chargers have a chance to end the season with diamonds in their rings.

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