The San Diego Chargers are an interesting group along the offensive. The team yielded very slim sack totals considering the strong passing offense that often went deep behind a strong-armed but slow-footed quarterback.
They also proved limited in the running game, failing to open significant holes and lacking push in short yardage. Four of the five starting linemen are virtual locks to be starting in 2010.
Left Tackle Marcus McNeill was given the highest tender by San Diego to be retained. His massive 6’7’’ frame is difficult for opposing pass rushers to find a way around but in short yardage, where the lowest often wins the battle, he doesn’t always get the leverage one would hope of a pro-bowl tackle.
Kris Dielman beside him at left guard is the most veteran player of the group at 29, and coming off pro-bowl alternate status.
Louis Vasquez is the current junior member of the group with just one year of experience. He showed enough across 2010 to give confidence that he can be a long-term starter for the team. He still needs some polish, but has the size and strength to develop into a great run and pass blocking guard.
Then come the two question marks to consider.
Nick Hardwick is among the better centers in the NFL when healthy. He is the team’s quickest lineman, and plays low. Unfortunately is proving something of an injury liability, playing a full 16 games only once in his six year career and missing 20 games across the past three seasons.
The team has no reason to believe his skills will decline, but some outside thought has to be given to putting a body behind him that is able to log significant minutes across the course of a season.
Right Tackle is the only position where the team genuinely has a hole. The current starter Jeromey Clary just keeps on earning time for lack of a better alternative. He is a good versatile asset to the team, but would be far more helpful as a sixth lineman that can rotate in or spot-start at guard or tackle in case of injury.
Ultimately that right-tackle gap has been something San Diego fans have been concerned over for more than just this current offseason, and is where focus should be given in the draft.
This need steps right tackle into one of the positions that could quite easily see an earlier mid-round pick this year. Vasquez looks like a solid choice as a 2009 third rounder, taking the same route with right tackle might very well be in order.
After the first tier of top-25 type tackles, there are few late first/early-mid second round type prospects within the draft, so pulling off a surprise second round pick is not likely (especially since it is for a right and not left tackle).
The earliest one could see would be the tail end of round three. Predicting who will be available here could be difficult. The limited number of second-tier choices means that players like Rodger Staffold and Vladimir Ducasse will be hard pressed to drop out of the second.
Kyle Calloway seems an ideal choice to fit within the constraints of San Diego’s draft. With Vincent Jackson and now departed Antonio Cromartie’s troubles, a player with a DUI (albeit on a moped) already on the books could strike a sour note, but his talent and potential may just make that hassle worthwhile.
Already accustomed to the right tackle position, he paired with surefire first-rounder Brian Bulaga to continue Iowa’s tradition of producing NFL offensive linemen.
If Calloway slips away before San Diego steps up, then the team may be best served to wait. The other third-round talents of the draft are all better suited to offenses that are looking for smaller, quicker offensive linemen.
Ed Wang could be a late fourth-round option, though his proclivity to rack up holding penalties offsets his athleticism.
Instead the team could look to the fifth round for help in Mike Tepper. He gives the team a very high character player who was an inspirational team leader.
He is currently better suited to pass blocking rather than run blocking, which fits in well with San Diego’s existing system—and was a teammate of Jahvid Best, one of the top four or five candidates for San Diego to draft into the starting running back position.
Tepper already has experience at either tackle position, and has a size and skillset that could translate well to the guard position as well. Because of this, he could be a highly versatile reserve lineman for the team should he not prove to be a future starter.
Ultimately the team may very well seek to utilize the mid-late rounds for defensive upgrades and depth at skill-positions rather than an offensive tackle, citing the unit’s strong pass-blocking performance in 2009 despite a host of injuries all along the line.
That notion is not aided by the fact that many of the projected mid round candidates are of a lighter build not befitting to San Diego’s system.
If Kyle Calloway slips out of reach the team should take care not to reach on the ‘next best thing’ to try and secure an instant starter, and instead content itself to wait for a later option like Mike Tepper or Chris Scott, who can step into ‘sixth man’ roles with their versatility along the line and work into that right tackle role.
See the rest of the ongoing Chargers Positional Needs series: