Jeromey Clary: Stopgap or Savior?

It was a mild surprise when Norv Turner made Jeromey Clary the No. 3 tackle in favor of 12-year veteran Roman Oben prior to the season opener. However, that was nothing compared to Wednesday's announcement that Clary will replace Shane Olivea as the starting right tackle beginning this week in Kansas City.

Jeromey Clary's second-season surge is all the more impressive given that he couldn't even crack the active roster last season. He was released at the end of training camp in favor of former undrafted free agent Cory Lekkerkerker. Clary was later re-signed to the practice squad.

While Marty Schottenheimer preferred to play Lekkerkerker, Norv Turner sees more upside in Clary.

"I have respect for Jeromey, but I have a lot of respect for myself and I have a lot of pride," Lekkerkerker said. "There are a lot of similarities and differences between us. I guess San Diego liked his differences. I'm very confident, but if that's what they feel is the best thing for their team, they have the decision."

Overtaking Lekkerkerker was one thing. Leapfrogging Shane Olivea is a horse of a different color.

Olivea has been a starter since the Chargers tabbed him in the seventh round of the 2004 draft. He wasn't even the team's first seventh-round pick, as A.J. Smith selected Ryon Bingham five spots earlier. Nonetheless, Olivea beat the odds and went on to start every game and play every offensive snap of his rookie season. Overall, he started all 57 games he's played in, missing one contest with an ankle injury in 2005 and another this season with a balky back.

Complicating matters is that A.J. Smith gave Olivea a six-year extension just last year. The deal was worth $20 million, not including some incentives Olivea has already earned, and made him the sixth-highest paid right tackle in the league.

"Shane is an integral part of our offensive line," General Manager A.J. Smith said at the time of the extension. "He's a highly competitive player who takes great pride in improving his game. He's all football player and we are very excited that he will remain a Charger for years to come."

While Olivea is locked up through 2011, Clary has only two years remaining on a contract with the league's minimum base pay. This discrepancy may force the Chargers to trade or release Olivea in the offseason. Under that scenario, A.J. Smith would prefer to ink a free-agent tackle and move Clary back to a swing position. Free agents to be include Flozell Adams, Jordan Gross and Max Starks.

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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