Chargers Add Derek Smith to Crowded LB Corps

The Chargers signed former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Derek Smith to a two-year contract on Sunday. The move creates a surplus of talent at the inside linebacker position and will force the Chargers to trade or release at least one player. Who will be the odd man out? SDBoltReport.com breaks it down.

Derek Smith is an 11-year veteran who spent the last seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He led the team in tackles from 2001-05 and played in the 3-4 scheme from 2005-07. He started 14 games last season, tallying 78 tackles and an interception.

Despite the solid numbers, the 49ers released Smith on February 19th.

"The day he was released we had great interest," Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith said. "We like our inside linebackers but we are young at the position. We love the possibility of mixing youth with experience. Derek brings a wealth of experience and we're happy to have him aboard."

The fact that Smith, 33, signed a multi-year deal all but assures he will make the team next season. The question is: whose spot will he take?

Matt Wilhelm and Stephen Cooper excelled in their first seasons as starters, both averaging more than six tackles per game. The Chargers are unlikely to stunt either player's progress by moving him out of the starting lineup.

Backups Brandon Siler and Tim Dobbins are two of the Chargers' top special teams players. Siler recorded 21 tackles on the coverage teams last season and Dobbins chipped in 18.

The fifth inside linebacker, 2006 third-round pick Anthony Waters, is an enigma. He spent all of last season on the inactive list as he recovered from the lingering effects of ACL surgery. If healthy, he may be the most talented inside linebacker on the roster. Then again, he may not be able to adapt to the pro game quickly enough to prove his true value.

It appears the odd man out will be Dobbins, whose struggles on defense limit his value. The Chargers should be fine covering kicks without Dobbins, as Siler, Kassim Osgood and Carlos Polk are more than willing to pick up the slack.

The Chargers could field offers for Dobbins but are unlikely to get much in return. The more likely scenario involves bringing all six players to camp and letting Norv Turner decide who to keep around. Regardless of how it shakes out, count on Derek Smith playing a big role.

"Derek brings experience, a real knowledge of the game and knowledge of this league," Turner said. "He's a physical player and an outstanding tackler. He's been a very productive player the last few years in San Francisco."


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