San Diego Plugs Holes, Leaves Draft Recharged

The Chargers entered the draft with needs at cornerback, running back and offensive tackle and addressed two of the three with multiple players. A.J. Smith traded away a future draft pick, again, and waited until the draft was winding down to select an offensive lineman, again, but the Chargers came out of the draft feeling recharged for a Super Bowl run.

I wrote in yesterday's draft recap that the selection of Antoine Cason was eerily similar to the acquisition of Buster Davis a year earlier. In much the same way, the move to land LSU fullback Jacob Hester was reminiscent of last year's trade to land Eric Weddle.

The Chargers traded away a future draft pick to a team coming off a Super Bowl loss in order to move up and grab a player of need. This year's need was created by the offseason release of Lorenzo Neal, whose bulldozing blocking tactics no longer fit in Norv Turner's offense.

When Neal trotted onto the field last season, it was a dead giveaway to the defense that a running play would ensue. With the versatile Hester now in the fold, the Chargers can use the fullback as a lead blocker, runner, pass catcher or decoy. It will help that -- when the Chargers split the fullback wide and run a zero route -- the team now has a player who can make plays in space.

CB Antoine Cason
Courtesy of San Diego Chargers

The Chargers can also go back to the quick-hitter to the fullback in short-yardage situations. Neal struggled to move the chains last season, but Hester and Andrew Pinnock are both fullback-halfback hybrids who can make plays with the ball in their hands.

Looking to give the backfield even more options, Smith snagged UTEP running back Marcus Thomas in the fifth round. reported a private visit between Thomas and the Chargers earlier this month, so it appears the meeting went well enough to get Thomas drafted. Thomas will take Michael Turner's place on the roster.

The addition of CB DeJuan Tribble in the sixth round was also about plugging holes, although it may not appear like it on the surface since San Diego replaced Drayton Florence in round one. Tribble is actually taking the place of Paul Oliver, who is now expected to move to safety to replace the departed Marlon McCree.

Sticking with the theme of filling holes, San Diego filled a gaping one created by the release of Shane Olivea by tabbing Texas A&M tackle Corey Clark with its fifth and final pick in the draft. Clark is an experienced player with size (6'6", 315 pounds) and versatility, although he is likely a year away from being ready to contribute in the NFL.

Clark and journeyman Tony Pape are the only backup offensive tackles on the roster. If the Bolts decide that neither is ready to see playing time this season, they could opt to add one of the veterans available in the unrestricted free agent pool. Click here for Adam Caplan's list of the best options available.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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