Bolts Notebook: Unresolved Issues

Are the Chargers still A-OK with having L.T. as their featured running back? Such a question seemed unlikely this time last year. But after ending his second straight season on the sidelines when the Chargers needing him most in the playoffs, that thought is no longer off limits.

After eight seasons of being one of the NFL's top backs, has time run out on LaDainian Tomlinson?

He is coming off his worst season - if one wants to call it that - since he was drafted No. 5 overall by the Chargers. Still, he rushed for more than 1,100 yards and ran for 11 touchdowns, despite being compromised with a toe and groin injury.

But the Chargers, long proud of having so much room under their salary cap, are now counting pennies. Not only is it because Tomlinson is due to count some $8.8 million against the cap, but because on the horizon deals must be considered for quarterback Philip Rivers, left tackle Marcus McNeill and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman.

"We need to discuss a number of things," general manager A.J. Smith said.

"There are four options out there. Does he stay? Does he not stay? Is there a trade? Is there a reduction of contract? All of those things must be discussed. We need to evaluate and discuss all of our players, but (everyone's) focus is on L.T. and I understand that because he is a marquee player."

Tomlinson is curious as well. He stated on his website that if he does leave San Diego, it won't be by his doing.

"I feel that I need to make it very clear that I have no intentions of leaving San Diego," Tomlinson said. "San Diego is where my career started and where I'd like it to end. I have nothing but love and the (utmost) respect for this team, the players, and the Spanos Family. Me being traded is completely out of my hands. I have absolutely no control in that decision making. All I can do is wait and see how it all plays out. As for now, I am a Charger and will be until I am told otherwise."

RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Harry How/Getty

When Smith heard of Tomlinson's statement, he followed-up with one of his owns. It came off as mocking Smith, as he nearly repeated word-for-word how Smith wanted to remain a Charger do.

Smith would later backtrack, saying disparaging Tomlinson wasn't his motivation. It was reported that Smith called the future Hall of Famer and one of the most popular players in team history to smooth any ruffled feathers.

But the Chargers have made it clear they will not let emotion enter into their most closely watched offseason decision. Like others, they know that running backs often hit the wall around the age 30, and that is something Tomlinson is coming up on fast.

If the Chargers decide they can do without Tomlinson, where do they turn?

Tomlinson's backup, Darren Sproles, proved he is a worthy replacement in spot duty. But at 5-foot-6, 181 pounds he isn't built for the pounding an every-down back has to take.

Plus, he's set to be a free agent. So the Chargers have to decide to let him test the market or slap a franchise or transition tag on him to guarantee his return.

Whatever the Chargers decided to do, how they do it will be watched closely.

Tomlinson is a proud man and if the Chargers ask him to restructure his contract, they must not try to low-ball him.

If they do, Tomlinson could head elsewhere and if he can stay healthy, prove the Chargers made a grave mistake.


--The torn groin muscle which kept LaDainian Tomlinson out of the Chargers' final playoff game will be able to mend without an operation. "After getting numerous opinions from well respected doctors, I will not be getting surgery," he said. "I plan on using the off season to rehab and strengthen what's left of my adductors so that I am ready to play football next season."

--DT Jamal Williams was arrested on the suspicion of drunk driving recently, the second Charger to be charged in less than a month. WR Vincent Jackson was previously apprehended. "It's disappointing to hear about the issue involving Jamal Williams," general manager A.J. Smith said in a statement. "We'll continue to monitor the situation and let the legal process run its course. The Chargers have always been leaders and positive contributors to our community. We take our stature in the community very seriously. Through the Chargers and the NFL, our players receive one of the most comprehensive education and support programs in sports to help them deal with issues that affect all segments of society."

--Despite the Chargers' push into the second week of the playoffs, Smith knows the roster needs some work. "We've got some good players, but we've got to find a mix that can make some noise in the playoffs and continue to build a resume of success in pressure-packed situations," he said.

--The Chargers are the only NFL team to win division titles in each of the past three seasons. They have also won four of the past five AFC West crowns.

--The Chargers, counting the playoffs, have won 57 games since 2004. That figure is bettered only by the Patriots (71), Colts (68) and Steelers (62).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "One thing you can't fight is age. I can't go back to being 21, 22 again. I'm gonna approach next year like the previous eight." -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson, when asked if his challenging offseason training would be limited as he gets older.


Rod Chudzinski

The Chargers tinkered with their coaching staff, as head coach Norv Turner continues to bring in men he's more comfortable with.

The biggest addition was bringing back Rob Chudzinski as tight ends and assistant head coach. Chudzinski was with the Chargers from 2005-06 as the tight ends coach. The past two years he was the Browns' offensive coordinator.

Don Johnson was hired as the defensive line coach and Steve Wilks coach the secondary. Mike Sullivan, former of the Cowboys, will assist Hal Hunter in working with the offensive line.


All eyes will be on general manager A. J. Smith on Feb. 26 when he meets with the media to lay out his plans for next season. No. 1 will be what he will do at running back, where LaDainian Tomlinson is still productive but will be entering his ninth season next year. And, what to do with Darren Sproles, as he is primed to hit the free-agent market after a breakout season.

The Chargers also have some questions on the defensive side where there are holes at defensive end, inside linebacker and strong safety. Smith has proved he prefers filling his needs through the draft of lower-level free agents. He has never made a big splash chasing the big names during the free-agency period and that doesn't figure to change.


1. Running back: Strange that team that last season had LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles would have a red flag at this position. But the team has to decide Tomlinson's situation and if Sproles is worth the dough with his undersized frame which doesn't lend itself to being an every-down back.

2. Defensive end: The Chargers burned a second-round pick on Igor Olshansky, but they don't think enough of him to want him to remain with the team. He's a free agent and is likely gone; the Chargers are not sure a capable starter to replace him is on the roster.

3. Right side of the offensive line: Guard Mike Goff isn't expected to be brought back and the team would like to upgrade the tackle spot held down by Jeromey Clary.

MEDICAL WATCH: OLB Shawne Merriman is expected to be ready for training camp and possibly offseason workouts after having his knee rebuilt.

--WR Malcolm Floyd is recovered from his collapsed lung and ready to go.

--WR Buster Davis had groin surgery last year and is expected to be ready for the offseason workouts.

--TE Scott Chandler (toe) will be ready for training camp.

--DE Keith Grennan (knee) could be back in time for the offseason workouts.




--OL Kynan Forney supplies depth and could return on the cheap.

--RG Mike Goff has been reliable and a hard-nosed player. But the team isn't inclined to shower the veteran with a big contract - there have been no contract conversations to date.

--OLB Marques Harris is used on passing downs and has shown some promise. He could come back as insurance against Shawne Merriman returning with a rebuilt knee.

--C Jeremy Newberry could give the Chargers a San Diego discount and return. He was a valuable backup with Nick Hardwick was injured early last season and prefers to stay in California if continuing his career.

--DE Igor Olshansky griped about his playing time after the season and doesn't seem long for the team. It looks as if his status as a second-round pick isn't enough to save his roster spot.

--RB Darren Sproles could be kept off the market if the team slaps a transition or franchise tag on him. The Chargers let a backup get away last season to free agency, and the Falcons were grateful to scoop up Michael Turner.


--WR Malcom Floyd is a great red-zone target and broke our last year before getting hurt down the stretch. Chargers would like to bring him back and he wants to return.

--CB Cletis Gordon supplies depth, but his shortcomings were exposed when he played for extended stretches. Chargers could let him go and try someone else.


--RT Jeromey Clary will likely stick in that he won't be that expensive and he has logged time as a starter. That said, the team could be looking for improvement at this spot and acquire someone to push Clary for the starting job.




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