Can Oliver make an impact in his second year?

The NFL draft is still two months away and the Chargers already know who they'll select with their fourth-round pick. That's because A.J. Smith used the selection in last year's supplemental draft to tab CB Paul Oliver. Although Oliver never escaped the inactive list as a rookie, he figures into the team's plans for 2008. Michael Lombardo explains how.

The Chargers always knew Paul Oliver would be a work in progress. Team officials attended his workout in June and noticed he looked slow and out of shape. Oliver only trained for three weeks prior to his Pro Day, working until the very end to remain academically eligible for his senior season at Georgia.

As a junior, Oliver tallied 57 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks. However, it was a game against Georgia Tech that really sold A.J. Smith on Oliver. During that contest, Oliver locked horns with Calvin Johnson (the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft) and limited him to two catches for 13 yards.

When Smith decided to spend a supplemental selection on Oliver, he did so with an eye towards 2008. Smith knew he could lose Drayton Florence to free agency and would be forced to replace him. Smith figured if he was going to spend a 2008 draft pick on a cornerback, he might as well pull the trigger early and give Oliver a year to assimilate.

"We had the opportunity to get a good football player and we took it," Smith said. "Paul Oliver is very competitive, aggressive, confident player. He's not cautious about anything he does on the field. You know how we like depth. We'll add Paul to the mix as a Charger and time will tell."

That time is now. The Chargers are grooming Oliver to replace Eric Weddle as the team's dime back, as Weddle is expected to move into the starting lineup to replace Marlon McCree, who is expected to be released.

The dime back has responsibilities of both a cornerback and a safety, which will allow San Diego coaches to determine which position better suits Oliver in the long run. A move to safety makes sense, because it would disguise Oliver's lack of speed and allow him to face the action and attack the ball.

However, San Diego doesn't want to give up on Oliver's future at cornerback. The Chargers were patient with Quentin Jammer after his rough start at the position, and he developed into one of the top 10 corners in the NFL.

Oliver has that same type of potential. During the preseason, he registered seven tackles, two pass breakups, an interception and a sack in limited playing time. He looked particularly impressive coming up to stop the run and blitzing from the slot.

Whether Oliver can transform his potential into production remains to be seen. With mini camps and offseason coaching sessions only a couple of months away, it won't take long to find out.

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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