Chargers Spotlight: Can Clark Click in 2009?

The San Diego Chargers do a superb job of finding offensive linemen late in the draft and grooming them into dependable starters. That was the plan last year when the team picked Corey Clark in the seventh round with hopes of having him prepared to contribute by 2010. Now comes the hard part -- finding a spot for him in 2009.

There's a lot for the Chargers to like about Corey Clark. He has a great build for the position at 6-foot-6 and 312 pounds. He's also an extremely accountable individual both on and off the field. And perhaps most importantly, he's versatile.

Shortly after being drafted, Clark told he feels more comfortable at tackle and believes he has the most potential at that position. Nonetheless, when the Chargers asked him to spend some time at guard, he did so without hesitation.

However, not everyone agrees Clark has what it takes to play inside.

"Corey Clark is a tackle," said Draft Analyst Chris Steuber. "He was a three-year starter at Texas A&M and although he could fill in at guard, I don't see his long-term position in the league being at guard. Clark doesn't play low enough to play inside, but he moves his feet well and is a rugged blocker."

More important than where Clark is positioned is who he is positioned behind. The Chargers will likely keep no more than nine offensive linemen on the roster and Clark could be the odd man out. The top-nine, in no particular order, figures to consist of Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick, Kynan Forney, Jeromey Clary, L.J. Shelton, Scott Mruczkowski, Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green.

So even though the Chargers did not draft a tackle this year for just the second time since the year 2000, the selection of two offensive linemen in the first four rounds may be tough for Clark to overcome.

The team could try to stash Clark on the practice squad -- he is eligible because he was on the active list for fewer than nine regular season games last season -- although he could be signed away by another team at any time in that scenario.

It may not seem like a huge gamble to risk losing Clark, who did not see any action during the 2008 regular season, but he has the potential to go from deep-reserve to starter in a hurry. The three players in front of him on the depth chart -- McNeill, Clary and Shelton -- are all scheduled to become free agents after the season. McNeill and Shelton will be unrestricted free agents while Clary will hit restricted free agency.

So how will the Chargers handle this situation, as they seek to field the deepest unit possible in 2009 while keeping an eye towards 2010? The answer will be derived from an offseason of intense competition on the offensive line, which is the exact scenario A.J. Smith was hoping to create.

Will Clark hold on to his roster spot in 2009? Talk about it in the message boards.

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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