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The Chargers' offseason required one eye on the field and another on the trainer's room. The team was upbeat on what they did - not much, really - in the offseason with some minor tinkering of the roster.

They protected themselves at inside linebacker - especially early in the season because of Stephen Cooper's four-game suspension - with the signing of veteran Derek Smith.

They got some insurance for center Nick Hardwick as he could miss the first month still rebounding from foot surgery. Just in case, the Chargers acquired former Raider Jeremy Newberry.

More depth was added to the offensive line by enticing ex-Dolphin L.J. Shelton to come aboard. The Chargers are fairly confident Jeromey Clary, who started down the stretch last season, can hold on to his job. If not, there is a fallback plan with Shelton.

The team did lose two key members of its secondary in safety Marlon McCree and cornerback Drayton Florence. But McCree's spot will be absorbed by second-year pro Eric Weddle, who proved his mettle on numerous occasions last year when filling in.

And with Florence losing his starting job to Antonio Cromartie and being reduced to the nickel role, his exit isn't as serious. To that end, the Chargers hope rookie Antoine Cason could become the nickel back.

There are still some medical issues the Chargers must work through, although they are optimistic on that front.

Quarterback Philip Rivers, who played in the AFC Championship Game with a torn ACL, has seldom missed a beat in the offseason workouts. He looks very good considering the seriousness of his operation.

But tight end Antonio Gates remains out after offseason foot surgery. He has his fingers crossed that he will be ready for training camp, but that is far from a given. If he can't go, Brandon Manumaleuna would see his role increased from being basically a blocker to a pass-catcher.

Andrew Pinnock
Stephen Dunn/Getty

Fullback Andrew Pinnock also had knee surgery in the offseason and has yet to return to workouts. That becomes a bigger concern considering Lorenzo Neal wasn't brought back. But, in coach Norv Turner's offense, the fullback's role is somewhat minimized - which is why they let the Pro Bowl Neal go.

The Chargers are saying that Eric Parker, who was among their top receivers two seasons ago, is making progress after a toe injury put him on injured reserve before the start of last year. But he's yet to run routes; the team reports that he is running lightly.

Rookie to watch: CB Antoine Cason -- The Chargers' top pick will be asked to fill in quickly. With Drayton Florence fleeing to Jacksonville, there isn't much depth at cornerback behind starters Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie.

Cason seems up to the challenge as he's played well in the offseason coaching sessions. He was a four-year starter at Arizona and is known to have a sharp football mind as well as his considerable athletic skills.

Sudden impact: Inside linebacker Derek Smith -- Smith brings a veteran presence to a unit that was among the best in the NFL last year. While the outside guys get most of the attention - Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips - because of their pass-rushing skills, it's the play inside that sets up those obvious passing situations when Merriman and Phillips can let it rip and head straight for the pocket.

Stephen Cooper is facing a four-game suspension by the NFL - a big blow because Cooper gets everyone lined up correctly and was the team's leading tackler last year. But Smith is a pro's pro and the team doesn't anticipate much of a dropoff in him replacing Cooper. Smith is entering his 12th NFL season and spent the last seven seasons in San Francisco. He was the 49ers' leading tackler for five straight seasons from 2001-05.

He's also keen on the Chargers' 3-4 alignment, as that is what the 49ers used his final three years in San Francisco.


UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--RB Tyronne Gross (not tendered as ERFA).
--C Jeremy Newberry: Not tendered as UFA by Raiders; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--OT L.J. Shelton: FA Dolphins; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Derek Smith: FA 49ers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--OT Jeromey Clary: ERFA; terms unknown.
--WR Malcom Floyd: ERFA; terms unknown.
--CB Cletis Gordon: ERFA; terms unknown.
--CB Steve Gregory: ERFA; terms unknown.
--LB Marques Harris: RFA; tendered at $1.47M; terms unknown.
--DT Brandon McKinney: ERFA; terms unknown.
--G Scott Mruczkowski: Potential RFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Billy Volek: UFA; $9M/3 yrs, $3M SB.
--CB Drayton Florence: UFA Jaguars; $36M/6 yrs, $12M SB.
--S Marlon McCree (released).
--FB Lorenzo Neal (released).
--OT Shane Olivea (released).
--K Dave Rayner: Not tendered as RFA/Dolphins; terms unknown.
--RB Michael Turner: UFA Falcons; $34.5M/6 yrs, $15M guaranteed.

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