Chargers notebook: Lightning Quicks

Three-deep has always been what A.J. Smith strives for. What could have been if the NFL Draft board fell as many thought it would in 2005. The Chargers have locked up many of their bright young stars – is there room for one more?

Brothers in Arms

The more one analyzes the recent trade for quarterback Billy Volek, the better the deal begins to look. Much has been made of the fact that Volek instantly becomes the team's most veteran passer, allowing him to mentor Philip Rivers while making sure the team doesn't have to play Charlie Whitehurst before he's ready. But what has not been mentioned nearly enough is the excellent contract the Chargers inherited with this deal.

Volek is signed through 2007 on a very palatable contract, with a base salary of $1 million this season and $1.25 million for next year. That means the Chargers top trio of passers should be together through next season, giving the team's quarterback corps a rare combination of stability and ability – allowing the team to assess whether Whitehurst will be ready for full-time backup duties in '08, his third year in the league.

"Just getting under center and calling the play it helps you," Rivers explained of what will likely be Whitehurst's first and last chance to touch the ball in 2006.

What Might Have Been

On draft day 2005, Shawne Merriman was convinced he would be selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the eleventh pick in the draft. Instead, the Cowboys chose fellow outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, allowing the Chargers to grab Merriman. But had the Cowboys selected the man known as "Lights Out," the Chargers would have followed by taking wide receiver Mark Clayton, who they will face in week four when the team travels to Baltimore.

The Ravens selected Clayton with the No. 22 pick in that draft, six spots before the Chargers snagged Luis Castillo. As a rookie, Clayton posted 44 catches for 471 yards and two touchdowns. That same year, Merriman and Castillo combined for 13.5 sacks and 106 tackles while anchoring the league's No. 1 run defense. So although Clayton would have been a nice addition and remains a terrific prospect, the Chargers are pretty happy with how things unfolded.

"He's really good," Titans defensive tackle Randy Starks, a teammate of Merriman's at Maryland, said. "He's too big just to block with a running back, but he's too quick to stick an offensive lineman on him, so that creates a lot of problems for the offense. He's a hard worker, very dedicated. He gives it everything he has every play."

"I am feeling great," added Castillo. "I am better physically and technique wise."

One Tough Cookie

Kris Dielman played the Titans contest with a nagging hamstring injury and was still able to dominate Albert Haynesworth, one of the better defensive tackles in the league. The performance was a timely one, as the team is currently working diligently on extending his contract. Dielman can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

"Kris Dielman played extremely well," head coach Marty Schottenheimer confirmed. "He played a terrific game against an outstanding player in Haynesworth."

Once the team locks up Dielman, it will be just about done with its long-term makeover of the offensive line. Nick Hardwick, Shane Olivea and Marcus McNeill all signed new contracts during the offseason. Mike Goff will probably play out his current pact before being replaced by the talented and versatile Scott Mruczkowski. For all the heat the Chargers line has taken, it is becoming a very successful unit that should continue to grow together for years to come.

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