Bolts Seek Vital Replacements Via the Draft

The Chargers, at No. 16 overall, have their highest pick since snagging Shawne Merriman with the No. 12 pick in 2005. They can only hope to get a player who makes the kind of impact Merriman has delivered.

The Chargers are gunning for their fourth straight AFC West title but that doesn't mean this is a squad with few holes. Not to be overlooked is the team finished the regular season with just an 8-8 mark and won the division -- in part -- because of a historic collapse by the Denver Broncos.

When fans think of the Chargers, they usually think offense. So it comes as no surprise that the Chargers need to address the other side of the ball with their first pick.

A nice selection with that first-round selection would be LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. The Chargers could slide him into the spot vacated by Igor Olshansky, who exited for Dallas through free agency.

S Rashad Johnson
Chris Graythen/Getty

Staying on defense, Alabama safety Rashad Johnson has been looked at closely by the Chargers, who brought him in for a visit. Johnson isn't afraid to hit and could be had -- maybe -- in the third round; the Chargers don't have a second-round pick.

If Johnson is taken, it would mark the second time in three years the Chargers have tried to strengthen the back end of the secondary after taking Eric Weddle in 2007.

In the fourth round, might Houston offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer be available?

Vollmer would be considered a project, as he grew up in Germany and is a late-bloomer to football. That said, he was very impressive with the Cougars and has the frame and attitude which translates into a tremendous upside.

While he played left tackle at Houston, he would likely flip to the right side with the Chargers. And that plays into their needs as Marcus McNeill is established at the left side but there are concerns about Jeromey Clary on the right side.

But don't discount the Chargers trading up to grab a second-round pick. General manager A.J. Smith has proved in the past two drafts he is not afraid to surrender picks to improve his draft standing if there is someone on the board he is enamored with.

Last year he pulled the trigger to snag LSU fullback Jacob Hester. In 2007, he took a liking to free safety Eric Weddle out of Utah and gave up a bounty to secure him.

TEAM NEEDS: Defensive end, defensive tackle, strong safety, right guard, running back, right tackle.

DE -- The Chargers could use help here, either inside or outside in their 3-4 alignment. The team lost starting end Igor Olshansky to free agency and there wasn't a surefire starter behind him.

NT Jamal Williams
Lenny Ignelzi/AP

DT -- Jamal Williams remains one of the best at his nose tackle position, clogging the middle and keeping blockers off the linebackers who collect most of the tackle. That said, he is entering his 12th season and he has had to baby his knees for the past few years. Williams has another year, but the team must address this critical spot soon.

SS -- Clinton Hart got his big break by being named the 2008 opening day starter at strong safety. But he was unable to hold the position and the team needs to upgrade here as Hart's backup, Steven Gregory, is likely more of a backup. The Chargers need a presence in the backfield with a hard-hitter, something they don't have in the secondary, save cornerback Quentin Jammer.

RG -- Right guard Mike Goff left via free agency and the team is hoping free agent Kynan Forney can step in, but they are not married to that idea.

RB -- With LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles likely on board -- Sproles still needs to sign his franchise offer sheet -- it wouldn't appear likely the Chargers would fill a need here. But Tomlinson could be gone after this season and the undersized Sproles can't be counted on to run between the tackles. So just maybe, the Chargers build for the future here.

RT -- There is also chatter they would like to upgrade the right tackle spot, where Jeromey Clary showed an up-and-down season last year.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Chargers got a peek at their schedule and it shows games against three of the four teams who played in 2008 conference title games and they will play on Christmas Day -- in Tennessee -- for the first time in team history.

"Every NFL schedule is challenging," said coach Norv Turner, whose team opens on "Monday Night Football" against the rival Raiders. "We face a lot of teams that made the playoffs last year, a lot of teams that finished above .500."

The Chargers play six playoffs teams from last year, including visits from Miami, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson said there were other reasons besides those of being on the field that motivated him to stay in San Diego.

"We've been part of this community for so long," Tomlinson said, who is entering his ninth year. "Our foundation does so much stuff here to help so many people. I just really didn't want to turn our back on the people in the community and all that things that we've built so far."

--The Chargers are saying that unlike in years past, fans will not be allowed to attend the minicamp workouts after the draft. The Chargers had a broken water line cause considerable damage at the facility and that hinders the fans' attendance.

--Team officials continue to state that their interested remains in building a new stadium in nearby Chula Vista and they are not considering -- for now -- the proposed stadium to be constructed near Los Angeles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When the schedule comes out, it always brings out the excitement that the season is getting closer." -- Coach Norv Turner on the NFL releasing the 2009 schedule.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

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

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--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.

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.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--OT Jeromey Clary: ERFA; $460,000/1 yr.
--OG Kynan Forney: Potential UFA; $4.8M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
--CB Cletis Gordon: RFA; $1.545M/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--LB Kevin Burnett: UFA Cowboys; $5.5M/2 yrs, $2M SB.

PLAYERS LOST

--RB Eldra Buckley (released).
--OG Mike Goff: UFA Chargers; $3.5M/2 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--DE Igor Olshansky: UFA Cowboys; $18M/4 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--LB Anthony Waters (released).


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