Chargers may have to replace veteran LB

The Chargers are losing more than just numbers at inside linebacker. With Donnie Edwards set to depart and Randall Godfrey possibly following suit, the Chargers will lose experience, leadership and numerous other intangibles. Now, the young players waiting in the wings must answer the bell if a precipitous drop in productivity is to be avoided.

Edwards, 33, has been a statistical stud since joining the Chargers prior to the 2002 season. During that time, he has accumulated 732 tackles, 17 interceptions and seven sacks. However, the team will be losing more than a tackling machine and a ball hawk when he leaves as an unrestricted free agent.

A veteran of 11 seasons, Edwards – along with Godfrey – was the most experienced member of the San Diego defense in 2006. Although he was not a vocal leader, he led by example, showing young players how to practice and prepare the right way.

"If you look at the numbers and the things this guy has put up over the last three or four years, it is outstanding," said Shawne Merriman of Edwards. "I feel he should get more credit."

Godfrey, on the other hand, is a vocal leader. A wise sage who enjoys taking younger players under his wing, he is currently considering retirement and is a 50-50 bet to return at this point. It was believed that the bitter ending to the Chargers' 2006 season may prompt him to return, but the abrupt dismissal of the coaching staff may push him in the opposite direction.

Godfrey, 33, has played three seasons in San Diego, totaling 217 tackles, seven sacks and six forced fumbles. If he decides to come back, he would first have to sign a new contract, as he is currently an unrestricted free agent.

"He is 50-50 on retiring," a source close to Godfrey said.

"He's a good veteran guy, a good locker-room guy," Edwards noted of Godfrey.

San Diego has prepared well for the departures of Edwards and Godfrey. Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm, a pair of four-year veterans who signed five-year extensions last season, will be the early favorites to inherit any vacancies at inside linebacker. Tim Dobbins, a fifth-round pick in the 2006 draft, will be in the mix, too.

Although these possible replacements have the potential to be at least as good as the players they are stepping in for, the Chargers will be hard pressed not to experience some initial regression.

Edwards has a knack for reading quarterbacks and making plays on the ball, a skill that will be sorely missed on a defense that struggles to get interceptions. Godfrey is the penultimate run stopper, someone who will diagnose plays quickly and deliver sure, powerful tackles.

Overcoming the loss of Edwards will be a challenge. If Godfrey leaves as well, that challenge will become twice as daunting. The young, replacement linebackers will have to apply all the lessons they learned while playing behind Edwards and Godfrey if they have any hope of maintaining the high standard the veterans have set.

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