AJ Smith Takes Larry English; Bye-Bye Shawne Merriman?

Eric GomezAnalyst IApril 26, 2009

SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 07:  Linebacker Shawne Merriman #56 of the San Diego Chargers sets on the line of scrimmage against the Carolina Panthers on September 7, 2008 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Panthers won 26-24.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on NFLTouchdown.com.

Much like a standard “HB Misdirection” play in Norv Turner’s playbook,  Chargers GM AJ Smith had both media and fans zigging when all along he planned on zagging.

The selection of Northern Illinois OLB/DE Larry English with the 16th pick was definitely a mock draft buster, as San Diego was expected to go into the draft and address their need of an offensive lineman to cover Mike Goff’s former spot, or bolster their running game by adding either RBs Knowshon Moreno or Chris Wells.

While Denver’s selection of Moreno at the 12 spot might have been a factor in Smith’s decision to draft English, consider the fact that going against the grain of “conventional wisdom” is classic AJ Smith.

To be fair, he warned us.

At his press conference following the 2008 season in which he detailed the state of the franchise, Smith mentioned that April was a freebie month for GM’s.

He noted that while it was not in his modus operandi to lie, he and his other 31 cohorts around the league shouldn’t be expected to place their hand on a bible when making statements prior to the draft.

There was extensive talk of Moreno and Wells, but also Connecticut RB Donald Brown, USC ILB Rey Maualuga and Ole Miss OL Michael Oher, all of whom (except for Moreno) were available at the time of San Diego’s pick.

Thus, it is somewhat safe to say that all the talk coming out of Chargers camp regarding these players was actually an indicator that they probably wouldn’t be selected by the team.

The intrigue behind English’s selection is obviously geared to the fact that San Diego currently possesses two of the best outside linebackers in the game in Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips.

With English’s 255 pounds obviously inadequate for occupying a spot on the defensive line, an interesting rotation of personnel (Merriman or Phillips at the defensive end with English and one of the Shauns at outside linebacker?) could take place with the obvious intent of putting pressure on opposing offenses, something that the Chargers lacked severely with Merriman out with injury last season.

But then, there could be another reason. AJ Smith is known to be notoriously aggressive with his own players and seemingly employs a no-nonsense  approach when negotiating contracts.

This has had mixed results in the past;  his gamble to goad LaDainian Tomlinson to renegotiate his deal after their war of words resulted in the star RB staying with San Diego, however, $14 million for backup LB Jyles Tucker as well as his running out of town of Donnie Edwards and Drew Brees come to mind.

With Shawne Merriman most likely anticipating a huge payout when his contract expires after this season, the drafting of English could be interpreted as a preemptive strike; guaranteeing the team that a quality player will patrol the ROLB spot in 2010 with or without Merriman on the  club.

Smith and Chargers director of player personnel Jimmy Raye so far have said that it is not the case, English’s selection was merely motivated by the team’s woeful defensive showing in 2008, and that Smith, coach Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera coveted English’s skills.

Before you start to breathe again, Charger fans—consider this.

It’s still April.