Where does Olivea fit in?

Shane Olivea suffered through his worst season in 2007. He hurt his back in Week 2, struggled after returning in Week 4, and lost his starting job for good in Week 13. He could only watch in disbelief as the Chargers offense thrived with him on the sidelines. Will the Chargers force him to restructure his contract to return next season?

The numbers don't lie. The Chargers played much better with Jeromey Clary at right tackle then they did with Shane Olivea. Philip Rivers had a passer rating of 93.1 in games Clary started; that number dipped to 82.4 when Olivea ran first string.

LaDainian Tomlinson averaged 111 rushing yards per game with Clary clearing the way, which is 30 yards better than when Olivea started (81 yards per game). Keep in mind, Tomlinson sat out the second half during three of Clary's six starts.

Although the Chargers played better without Olivea in the starting lineup, they are not convinced they are better off without him. Olivea started 47 of 50 career games at right tackle, but his 6-foot-3, 312-pound frame may be better suited for guard. The Chargers will try moving him inside to see if an interior position is a better fit.

The switch should mask Olivea's most glaring deficiency: his inability to handle speed rushers off the edge. It will also play to his strengths, allowing him to showcase his in-line blocking and open up cutback lanes for Tomlinson.

Olivea's first opportunity for playing time will come at right guard, as Kris Dielman is entrenched at left guard for the foreseeable future. Mike Goff has the inside track on retaining his starting position for another season, but Goff will be a free agent after next year.

Olivea could spend the 2008 season acclimating to the guard position before taking over in 2009. No matter when he moves back into the starting lineup, he seems fully capable of making an impact. At right guard, he would be able to use his agility to pull left and open up rushing lanes on the Chargers' dominant running side.

There are two serious concerns regarding Olivea's future. The first is money, as he signed a six-year, $20-million extension in 2006 that made him the sixth-highest paid right tackle in football. It helps that the Chargers paid $8 million of that in 2007, which lessens the blow in subsequent years.

Olivea's base salary in 2008 is a palatable $2 million. However, the Chargers may be reluctant to pay that much money to a probable non-starter.

The other concern about moving Olivea is that it takes potential playing time away from Scott Mruczkowski. Mruczkowski will be a restricted free agent this offseason but is expected to return. The Chargers are high on Mruczkowski and would like to see more of him before he hits the unrestricted free agent market next offseason.

If Olivea takes Mruczkowski's spot as the top backup guard, Mruczkowski will have to lean on his versatility to stick around. He has the size (6-foot-5, 318 pounds) and strength to play right tackle, a position he has worked at with the Chargers. He also has the ability to play center, which is where he played at Bowling Green.

No matter the rumors that may swirl in the coming weeks, expect the Chargers to find the money and the roster space to keep the blue-collared Olivea around.

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

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