Smith Shoulders Blame for Poor Performance

The Chargers won their third straight AFC West title last season, but their year was hardly a success. So says their general manager A. J. Smith. And his finger of blame points to players and himself.

"I'm not real happy in a number of errors," Smith said. "I need to pick up my game."

The Chargers were able to win a playoff game last season but were above .500 just one week of the season. They did get hot after losing eight of their first 12 games, but they also benefited from the Broncos' historic collapse.

"It could have gone either way," he said.

Smith is saying some of his players didn't produce as expected. But that the guy picking those players -- him -- has blemishes as well.

"The last couple of years there are some things, there are some things I need to look at," Smith said. "I know players have to play: if players play they make you look good. If players don't perform they don't make you look real good."

It can be speculated Smith was likely let down by the play of, among others: cornerback Antonio Cromartie, linebacker Matt Wilhelm, safety Clinton Hart and fullback Jacob Hester.

"The bottom line is those players are a reflection on who brought them in or the decision made to bring them in here," Smith said.

"I don't know if I'm being hard on myself; I'm being quiet honest with you."

Smith's roster is still littered with Pro Bowlers -- even if running back LaDainian Tomlinson decides to leave. But Smith is perplexed how some players didn't play as planned.

"I like the organization and where we are -- we got a lot of good football players but (some) have either been mis-evaluated or aren't playing well."

NOTES, QUOTES

--G Kynan Forney wasn't active for a game last season with the Chargers but was signed to a two-year deal which could be worth $4.8 million, with a believed guarantee of $2 million.


RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Stephen Dunn/Getty

--Chargers GM A.J. Smith said the team needs to do two things to become more successful: "We need to have a solid, consistent running game. We have to. And we have to figure out how to stop passing assaults against this football team. Until we figure that out we will not go where we want to go. It is just not going to happen."

--With the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger winning his second Super Bowl ring recently and the Giants' Eli Manning owning one, too, Philip Rivers still seeks his ring. Smith passed on the first two quarterbacks in going with Rivers in that celebrated first round of the draft. "He doesn't have any," Smith said of Rivers, after three years as a starter. "But I'm rooting for Philip Rivers again this year."

--RB Darren Sproles has that rich franchise tender, but the Chargers would like to sign him to a long-term deal. "We would love for him to be with us in the future -- we plan on him being here," Smith said.

--Smith must soon look at Rivers' contract, which expires after the 2009 season. "He is in the last year and we will deal with it and hopefully he will be with us for many years to come," Smith said.

--Not by name, but Smith put some Chargers on notice. "They are some, and they know who they are, I'm not sure (about)," Smith said of the under-performing players. "And they are going to have opportunities to rebound." Smith said many have already been spoken with. "You better rebound if you want to be a Charger," he said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "(They) bought all the magazine covers and probably have them hanging in their room somewhere. I don't think we will be on many magazine covers this year and that makes me happy." -- GM A.J. Smith on his players buying into the hype going into last season about them going to the Super Bowl.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Chargers started the rebuilding of their offensive line with right guard Mike Goff not being brought back after he reached free agency. Goff was solid and dependable but after 11 NFL seasons the Chargers want to go younger and cheaper. At right tackle Jeromey Clary was tendered, as expected, but the Chargers could try to bring in a veteran or pick up someone in the draft to shore up that spot.

Another red flag along the line is left tackle. The club is confident left tackle Marcus McNeill will be fine after undergoing neck surgery. He is expected to be out the next five months but fit for training camp. But that situation might call for some additional depth there; it is worth monitoring.

TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY

The Chargers had few surprises in the players they said won't be coming back.

Depending on what they do in free agency -- not expected to be much -- and how the LaDainian Tomlinson situation plays out, the team is seeking help on both sides of the ball.

The most pressing needs probably come on defense, where a unit never did effectively stop the pass.

That could change when OLB Shawne Merriman returns. The Chargers hope so.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Inside linebacker: The Chargers aren't pleased with the spot opposite Stephen Cooper. The team could possible upgrade with a Tier 2 free agent here or spend its first-round pick to shore it up.

2. Running back: Until the situation with LaDainian Tomlinson is clarified, this is a concern. Although Darren Sproles has been designated the franchise player, he is not an every down back and it's not certain the Chargers have one on the roster, if Tomlinson goes.

3. Right guard: Mike Goff reached free agency and won't be brought back. Goff was a sly old pro and gave the line some nastiness as well. The team isn't sure backup Scott Mruczkowski is up to the job.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: RB Darren Sproles: Tendered at $6.621M.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--RG Mike Goff has been reliable and a hard-nosed player, but the Chargers have said he won't be back.

--OLB Marques Harris was used on passing downs and has shown some promise, but he won't be re-signed.

--C Jeremy Newberry was a valuable backup when Nick Hardwick was injured early last season, but the Chargers won't re-sign him.

--DE Igor Olshansky griped about his playing time after the season and the Chargers won't try to re-sign him.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--WR Malcom Floyd (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) has a good connection with QB Philip Rivers and can be a solid red-zone target. Injuries slowed him some down the stretch last year.

--CB Cletis Gordon (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) surprised some by getting that tender as some of his shortcomings were exposed when playing extended stretches last year. But he is a solid special teams player and has potential as a returner.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

--OT Jeromey Clary started for the first time last year and was adequate. But the team is looking to upgrade here.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--OG Kynan Forney: Potential UFA; $4.8M/2 yrs, SB unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: None.

PLAYERS LOST

--RB Eldra Buckley (released).
--LB Anthony Waters (released).


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