Savvy Signings Salvage Season

Kris Dielman stole the headlines this offseason by signing a six-year contract to stay with the Chargers. However, two other free agents signed on the cheap. Carlos Polk and Cory Withrow inked multi-year deals and became the catalysts for the current two-game winning streak.

A.J. Smith re-resigned Carlos Polk to a two-year contract solely because of his special teams prowess. Polk, a two-time Special Teams Player of the Year, has a knack for busting wedges and blasting kick returners. That ability sparked the Chargers' week five win over the Denver Broncos, when Polk jarred loose the ball from return man Brian Clark. The loose ball bounced into the waiting hands of Brandon Siler, who returned it 23 yards for the touchdown, putting the Chargers ahead, 14-0.

"I was running down and I saw Tim Dobbins on the other side of me; he came down and took out the wedge, and there was only one hole open," Polk said. "I came through, and I just tried to take his head off. I saw the ball going. I just didn't know where it went. Next thing I know, I saw everybody running to the goal line."

An added bonus has been Polk's versatility as a linebacker. In 2006, he started four games at outside linebacker when Shawne Merriman was suspended and Shaun Phillips was banged up. This season, he has started two games at inside linebacker when Matt Wilhelm was injured and Dobbins proved ineffective.

Cory Withrow has proven to be an equally cost-effective insurance policy. The cagey eight-year veteran is a tenacious scrapper who understands leverage and calls blitz pick-ups with precision. He stepped in early against Oakland Raiders when Nick Hardwick sprained his foot and the offense kept on motoring.

"He did a great job," said Philip Rivers of Withrow. "That shows the value of having veteran backups and veteran players on your team. He's been around a long time and he and Nick work really well together doing the week. As far as making the calls and seeing things, he really brings a whole lot to that group in general."

Withrow played great against the Raiders from start to finish. His first play of the game was a shotgun snap -- delivered on target despite having just moments to prepare -- and his final play resulted in a game-clinching 41-yard touchdown run by LaDainian Tomlinson.

Withrow's stabilizing presence helped Tomlinson run for a season-high 198 yards (8.25 yards per carry) and kept Rivers from getting sacked.

"That was something for Cory to come in and play the way he did," Norv Turner said. "For us not to miss a beat, that was big to have a guy step up like that."

When Polk and Withrow were re-signed this spring, they received only a blip on the transaction wire. Now, their impact is made in the standings.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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