What does the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Indianapolis Colts, the New England Patriots, have in common with the San Diego Chargers?
They all have success practically every year in their division.
Every single one of these teams have had many situations in the past where a player gets hurt and the next person behind him just steps up or a guy through the draft just comes in and perform.
What kept the Chargers at the top of the AFC West is having the ability to just reload talent from within.
Guys who have the ability to succeed and show it when a man goes down is what keep these teams on top of their division for so long.
AJ Smith is the reason for why the Chargers are still at the top of their division and the reason why the Chargers haven't gone down the road of obscurity after so many changes.
I still believe that no team has seen personnel change in a six-year period more so than the Chargers.
Let's look at some of the changes that have occurred during the Chargers road to continued success that got them to be one of the top NFL teams year in and year out.
When the late John Butler took over as GM for the struggling Chargers, he made it a point to get a QB who could help build the foundation of the Chargers during the trying times. Doug Flutie was that QB.
The Chargers drafted Drew Bees the same year that Doug Flutie was acquired. Doug Flutie was just the Band-Aid on a Chargers team until Brees finally felt comfortable enough to take over.
Brees did take over in the 2002 season only to lose that starting role during the 2003 season. The Chargers then went on to draft QB Philip Rivers during the 2004 draft.
Eventually, Brees got the message, as he end up taking over for good as the starter in 2004 during a Rivers holdout during camp.
Brees responded with a 12-4 record, winning the AFC West for the Chargers. That was the first AFC West title since 1994 for San Diego.
The foundation of the Chargers winning started with these two duos in 2001 ending the losing drought in 2004.
Brees proved that the Chargers front office had something in store for the future of the Chargers starting with the trying success of these men at QB.
Randall Godfrey and Donnie Edwards were the free agents brought in with Doug Flutie and Tim Dwight to bring stability to the Chargers while the front office found players to develop.
One of those players was undrafted free agent Stephen Cooper, coming from a small school and showing a knack for the ball in his first four seasons as a back-up player from small town University of Maine.
The Chargers saw enough from the promising 27-year-old to give him his first start heading into the 2007 season.
Randall Godfrey was then expendable even after he had great seasons but he wasn't getting any younger.
Cooper responded with 108 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2 INT's in his first year as a starter.
He still kept the Chargers going until this present day as a reliable player.
When Antonio Cromartie got drafted back in 2006, he was coming in to provide depth, especially at the nickel position with the departure of former first round Sammy Davis.
Drayton Florence and Quentin Jammer may have been the lock at both starting CB positions; it only took following season in 2007 for the Chargers to see the true potential of Cromartie when he won the starting role from Florence.
Cromartie went on to have 44 tackles and 10 INT's in 8 games as a starter. He also had 3 INT's against Peyton Manning in one game during the first half alone.
With the emergence of Cromartie as the starter, Florence went his way on to another team. With Cromartie in the line-up in 2007, he helped the Chargers lead the NFL in turnovers.
Last season, Chris Chambers was the second WR in the line-up on the opposite side of Vincent Jackson.
Chambers have done mediocre during his time with the Chargers since 2007 through early 2009. The Chargers saw a opportunity to promote Malcolm Floyd after seeing what he's capable of.
Boy, Floyd sure didn't disappoint as he was just as good as Vincent Jackson in the deep passing game. In 9 games as a starter last season, Floyd had 45 receptions for 776 yards and 1 TD. He averaged 17.2 yards per catch.
Floyd is a weapon to be dealt with in the deep passing game the Chargers specialize in.
With the emergence of Floyd, the Chargers didn't have much use for Chris Chambers especially with the whole salary cap problem that may come into effect if the CBA figure themselves out.
Chris Chambers was released and he proved to be another team's goto guy.
Steve Foley was a great surprise in San Diego, helping the team's defense with 10 sacks in 2004.
Shaun Phillips was just a rookie at that time just being a pass rushing specialist on certain situations.
Fast forward to September 2006, Foley ended up getting shot in a DUI police shooting incident that left him out for the season.
Such a move pave the way to Shaun Phillips starting as a full-time weak side outside linebacker.
Phillips didn't disappoint in his first year as a starter as he tallied up 11.5 sacks. Phillips held that starting role up to this day.
I love Lorenzo Neal. I have nothing but great respect for the man. When Norv Turner came in, I knew that Neal wasn't going to be with the team any longer.
In 2007, the Chargers pounded the ball with efficiency with a rushing title offensive line and a hard-nosed blocker in the FB position. The different things I've seen was Neal was asked to do more in the passing game.
The Chargers then slowly built a team towards personnel that fit Turner's vertical offense. Chargers brass didn't see Neal being a part of that transition as he was released after the 2007 season.
In the 2008 draft, the Chargers drafted Jacob Hester. He was supposed to be the heir apparent to take over the role of Michael Turner as the battering ram of the RB's but things started to look differently in the eyes of Norv Turner.
He saw Hester as a passing threat out of the backfield and a runner from the FB position with some touches as a RB in short yardage situations.
Hester didn't disappoint with playing the FB position as he average 5.0 yards a carry and 7.6 yards per catch on 12 receptions.
Neal was a bit of the focal point in the running game during the Marty Schottenheimer days but in Turner's offense, the FB must be a versatile player.
A FB must have the ability to catch, run, and block all the while gaining yardage for the offense.
Hester has the ability and have shown he can perform when asked to do so. On a team with so much talent, Hester takes advantage of every opportunity.
Drafted in 2002 from Nebraska, Toniu Fonoti was the behemoth that would hopefully anchor a offensive line in the running game for years to come.
Fonoti helped LaDainian Tomlinson get many rushing yards early on in his career. Fonoti was nearly unstoppable on the move in the running game.
The downfall of Fonoti was what made him nearly tough to stop in the running game, his weight. Little did anyone knew that a guy by the name of Kris Dielman was going to take his place in 2006.
Kris Dielman was a undrafted rookie signing with the Chargers in 2003. He was signed as a defensive linemen.
By pure luck, the Chargers needed extra depth at O-line leading him to play offensive line for the first time in his career. Dielman made the move as it was a way for him to make the team.
No one saw it coming that Dielman would take that hard-nose toughness attitude he got from the defensive line and use it on the offensive line.
With Dielman showing the ability to start, the Chargers parted ways with Toniu Fonoti.
Dielman went on to help Tomlinson break multiple records and win two rushing titles in his first two seasons as a starters.
Dielman is still with the team until this day and hasn't lay down his ability to pummel any defensive linemen in any game.
Ben Leber was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 2002 draft. Leber showed lots of promise during his first season as he had a respectable five sacks for a team that was building its own identity.
What led to Leber's downfall with the Chargers had more to do with him getting injured during the training camp year of 2005, the same year Chargers rookie Shawne Merriman was injured.
Coming back from injury, Leber only re-injured himself during the season paving way for Merriman to take the job by force.
Merriman as a rookie had 57 tackles, 10 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He wasn't letting the starting job go as he went on to have more successful seasons after that 2005 rookie year.
What can I say? Who ever thought that Drew Brees would have had a NFL career after such a career ending-like injury?
The Chargers sure didn't. Neither did the Dolphins or the rest of the NFL who needed a strong-armed QB. The only team that saw potential in him was New Orleans.
Anyway, the truth of the matter during the 2006 off-season following the 2005 season, the Chargers couldn't keep Drew Brees after such a injury. There is just no way.
Just so happened that the Chargers have a first round draft choice in QB Philip Rivers in the wings, no one thought that Rivers would become what he became.
The coach who lobbied AJ Smith for Rivers to come to San Diego was none other than Marty Schottenheimer, who was one of the college all-star game coaches.
Schottenheimer made the right choice in trying to get Rivers as he has been nothing but consistent for the Chargers thus far.
The man have been a top 3 QB in the last two years not to mention helping his team win their first playoff game since 1994.
The Chargers under Rivers is 46-18 as a 4 year starter which does blow away Drew Brees career wins as a Chargers QB.
Drew Brees may have won a Super Bowl but he did it at 31 years old. Philip Rivers is just 28 years old. I believe Rivers will get his before 31 years old.
Mike Goff. A couple of things come to my mind when you think of this guy as a Charger offensive linemen. The man have been the steady enforcer playing alongside probably the best offensive line the Chargers EVER had thus far in 2006 and 2007. He helped LaDainian Tomlinson along side with his fellow linemen to multiple rushing records and two NFL rushing titles. Goff was there in 2004 when he came in and help anchor the Chargers offensive line in their first AFC West title since 1994. Goff's last season with the Chargers was in 2008 as the Chargers were finalizing their move to a more balanced team and bringing in a younger guy was in order.
That younger guy didn't play like a younger player. That young man was Louis Vasquez. The man has 335 lbs. on a 6'5" frame. Not to mention he came from pass happy college Texas Tech. One thing is for sure was that he played with the same mean streak that Kris Dielman plays with making him a perfect fit along side the offensive line. Vasquez helped the Chargers elite passing attack by not giving up many sacks. Only three sacks he gave up on a offensive line that game up 26 sacks all season long making the Chargers offensive line rank 6th in the league. Just to think, he's only 23 years old. He'll be around for a while.
The Chargers last six years of being one of the most consistent teams out there to win isn't a fluke. These are only a FEW of the many examples of how guys step up to the plate and just play to the level of their former starters that they're taking over or play to a better level.
As we look forward to this season, there are many guys that are being asked to be the next round for the Chargers. Guys like Brandyn Dombrowski, Scott Mruczkowski, Antoine Cason, Larry English, Cam Thomas, Darrell Stuckey, Legedu Naanee, Brandon Siler, and many other players that just need that opportunity to show what they are capable of.
The fact that the Chargers are able to be on top has a lot to do with the front office. Guys in the scouting department, upper management, and coaches on the team. All of this can't be done without the man that's pulling the trigger and that's GM AJ Smith. AJ Smith may be running out of rounds but like I already shown, he has been known to bring out carts of ammo to keep the team gunning for that elusive Super Bowl title.