Striking gold

Last year, the Chargers selected a defender that had immense potential - which he met during the season. They did the same this year, although Antonio Cromartie didn't have quite the credentials as Shawne Merriman coming out.

Can A. J. Smith hit home runs in consecutive drafts? The Chargers' general manager hopes so.

Last spring, Smith snagged linebacker Shawne Merriman in the first round and he went on to lead the team with 10 sacks, make the Pro Bowl and be named the NFL's defensive rookie player of the year.

This spring, Smith gambled on cornerback Antonio Cromartie in the first round. Cromartie has a tremendous upside, despite starting but one game in his career at Florida State. Cromartie is being asked to help a secondary that remains the team's weakest link.

To that end, Smith also signed free-agent safety Marlon McCree, the former Carolina Panther.

Safety Andre Lott, a free-agent acquisition on a much lower scale, was also signed. But after an impressive showing in the offseason workouts, Lott could be in the mix as well.

The linebacker unit remains the same, but that could change. Inside linebacker Donnie Edwards remains on the trading block, and if he were to leave, Stephen Cooper or Matt Wilhelm would be asked to fill his spot. Edwards has led the team in tackles in each of the past four years.

Along the line, DeQuincy Scott, a backup end, wasn't re-signed. But not much tinkering was needed here with Pro Bowl tackle Jamal Williams (knee) expected to be fit. The Chargers are expecting more progress from ends Igor Olshansky and Luis Castillo.

The Chargers basically stood pat with a defense that was ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the run. The moves they did made were on the back end, and not all that much was done there.

In addition to McCree coming aboard, disappointing cornerback Sammy Davis was traded to the 49ers.

But if Smith strikes gold again in Cromartie -- and McCree plays as advertised -- the secondary could be the team's most improved unit.

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