With the Dust from Heinz Field Settled, the San Diego Chargers Go Back To Work

Daniel SchoedelContributor IJanuary 15, 2009

With the season coming to an end in Pittsburgh last Sunday, the time comes to look at what the Chargers need to do this offseason centering on free agency and the draft.

When looking at the Chargers' needs in the 2009 NFL draft, it might be easier to look at what needs they don’t have.

The Chargers have a few units that are relatively solid. Even though Philip Rivers is an unrestricted free agent after the 2009-2010 season, it has to be believed that the Chargers management will lock him up long before it even becomes an issue.

With Rivers solidly in place and Billy Volek signing a three year contract, the Chargers are set at the quarterback position.

Their secondary is probably the strongest unit on the other side of the ball with Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer at the corners and Clinton Hart and Eric Weddle at the safety positions.

Behind this unit is some depth with Antoine Cason, last year’s first round pick and Paul Oliver, a player that may be asked to step up should Clinton Hart not be resigned.

The final unit that won’t require immediate attention is special teams. Nate Kaeding and Mike Scifres are amongst the best at their positions and neither is up for free agency with in the next three years.

The lone concern in the special teams area is whether they will have to add a kick off and punt returner should Darren Sproles not be resigned.

The remainder of the units will need to be addressed either through the draft or through free agency. Probably the two areas that need the most attention are linebacker and running back. 

Though the Chargers have gotten a lot out of their linebackers, the unit could be upgraded. The X-factor will be how effective Shawn Merriman will be after he returns from reconstructive knee surgery to repair his torn knee ligaments. Merriman's ability to get to the passer was sorely missed this off season.

With the 16th pick in this year’s draft, there will be some attractive options.  All-American Rey Maualuga from USC would be a great addition. He is a local, has played in a great system at USC, and would fit in well with the southern California environment. If he is not available, Florida Gator Brandon Spikes would be another good pick up.

Should the Chargers not decide to add a linebacker in the first round, they would have to wait until the third round due to the fact that they traded the pick last year to the New England Patriots to grab Jacob Hester.

At that point the Chargers could look to take Darry Beckwith out of LSU or Dannell Ellerbe or Georgia. There has to be some concerns with Beckwith regarding a knee injury the suffered last year.

Another area that the Chargers should think about addressing is running back. A lot of this will have to due with what direction that Chargers go with Darren Sproles and how effectively LaDainian Tomlinson heals this offseason. Whether the Chargers decide to keep Sproles or not, they may think about using their third round pick on a running back. 

Some of the backs projected to fall into that round are Shonn Greene of Iowa, Devin Moore of Wyoming and Javon Ringer of Michigan State. DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma may also fall into the third round but there are major concerns regarding a hamstring that may require surgery.

Murray would be a better fit for a team like the Steelers that are solid at running back and can afford a project.

Another intriguing possibility is Rashad Jennings from division 1-AA Liberty. Jennings finished his 2008 campaign with1,500 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He originally played for the University of Pittsburgh but was choose to transfer to Liberty to be closer to his family to help his father deal with diabetes. Jennings is a power back that effectively hits the hole.

He doesn’t have blazing speed but will move the pile and pick up yards. Should the Chargers decided to resign Sproles, Jennings could be an excellent change of pace back.

The other units are moderately solid but still need to be addressed. The offensive line will probably loose starting right guard Mike Goff. The Chargers will look to fill this need in house or through free agency. If the Chargers run across a value pick for an offensive lineman that would add some depth, they should take it.

The same thing is true for wide receiver. Receiver is an area that may want to be addressed but is not a main priority. Both starters work well with Rivers. Chambers’ injury issues can be a bit trying but it is workable.

There are also some decent options on the free agent market such as Michael Clayton of the Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Hank Baskett of the Philadelphia Eagles and Shaun McDonald of the Detroit Lions

Should the Chargers look at the draft for this area, some good  late round choices are Mike Wallace of Ole Miss, Mike Thomas of Arizona and Brandon Gibson of Washington State. Wallace and Thomas offer an additional upside in that they are effective returners, a potentially useful skill if Sproles doesn’t return.

All three had stronger seasons in 2007 than in 2008.

Another intriguing prospect is Pat White, quarterback out of West Virginia. There is no doubting his athletic ability. The real question will be how his skills translate to the next level. He could be a great pick up for the Chargers because he may fit as a running back as well.

The defensive line has been very consistent but could look at add more depth behind Jamal Williams, Igor Olshansky and Luis Castillo. Castillo will be a free agent after next season and should be retained. Williams’ contract will be up after 2010. The Chargers in the past have been reluctant to resign players that are getting past their prime and want big contracts.

Baring a disastrous couple of years, Williams will be in position for a nice pay day. Though the Chargers may try and add a value pick in the later rounds, they have no reason to rush. To replace Williams, they are going to need to grab a player in the first or second round and there are more pressing needs in this draft.

What ever the Chargers decide to do in the draft this year, the one thing that was made even more glaring after the loss to the Steelers is the need for help on the defensive side of the ball. Adding players like Rey Maualuga or Darry Beckwith would provide a more effective pass rush.

The Chargers failed to generate much of a pass rush against the Steelers with the lone sack coming from Eric Weddle out of the safety position. The return of Shawn Merriman should help this but adding some effective pass rushers in the draft needs to be a priority.

A.J. Smith has been effective at moving around to get players that fit into the Chargers system. Last year, he moved up to take Jacob Hester. The year before,  he made a trade to be able to acquire Eric Weddle. Both players have been excellent additions to the team.

For the Chargers brass, the positives are that they have quality players at most of their positions. Adding a few key players in the right spots can put the Chargers back in position to go to the Super Bowl in 2010, a goal that all of the Charger faithful can agree on.