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News » GM: Chargers have 'a lot to fix' during draft

GM: Chargers have 'a lot to fix' during draft

GM: Chargers have 'a lot to fix' during draft
SAN DIEGO (AP) - A.J. Smith could use a draft-day rebound.

His San Diego Chargers are hardly the Super Bowl-caliber team many people thought going into last year, and the general manager's last two drafts seemed to bring about as many questions as answers.

While the Chargers remain a talented bunch, Smith has admitted the Bolts have a lot of work to do to become more than just a team that routinely wins the mild, mild AFC West before being left stranded somewhere along the road to the Super Bowl.

After winning the awful division at 8-8 thanks largely to Denver's utter collapse, the Chargers won a riveting overtime playoff game against Indianapolis. But then they were exposed by the more physical Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round.

Several weeks later, Smith pointed a finger inward, making a rare public acknowledgment that he wasn't happy with some of his player-personnel decisions during the last two years.

Smith stays away from splashy free agent signings, so the draft is his main way of restocking.

"We've got a lot to fix," Smith said.


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As usual with Smith, there are no specifics other than the Chargers have no plans to draft a kicker or a punter because they're set with Nate Kaeding and Mike Scifres.

Everything else is in play. Just don't expect an answer from Smith on what he feels is the team's biggest need, let alone which players he likes.

"Oh my goodness, no," Smith said in the days leading up to his seventh draft as the Bolts' boss.

He did acknowledge the Chargers can go in several different directions. They currently hold the 16th pick overall and have eight picks total. One option would be to trade down because they don't have a second-round pick.

That's because Smith sent it to New England on the second day of last year's draft to move up to the third round and take fullback Jacob Hester. Some people think Smith overpaid for Hester, just as some believe it was a reach for him to spend heavily to move up in the 2007 draft and take safety Eric Weddle.

Smith's 2007 first-round pick, wide receiver Craig Davis, has been injured and not overly productive when healthy.

Although the Chargers have boasted in recent seasons about their depth and number of players under long-term contracts, they certainly can use help in several areas.

The Chargers are believed to like defensive end Tyson Jackson of LSU to replace Igor Olshansky, who was allowed to leave as a free agent.

Smith wasn't happy with the play of the offensive line or the secondary last season. The Chargers haven't had a hard-hitting safety since Rodney Harrison left after the 2002 season. And remember, Smith could have taken Troy Polamalu in 2003, but traded down and took cornerback Sammy Davis instead. Davis flopped, was traded to San Francisco and is no longer in the NFL.

"We've got some concerns," Smith said. "I don't want to get into specifics. We've got to fix a lot of things."

If Jackson's gone by the 16th pick, one scenario has the Chargers taking Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and converting him to safety. Jenkins, who won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, said during the scouting combine in February he'd prefer to stay at cornerback.


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If they wanted to upgrade on the offensive line, Mississippi's Michael Oher could be an option.

Then again, the truth takes a beating leading up to the draft.

"The month of April, I've always said, is Liar's Month, and it's a freebie," Smith said in late February. "I think there are some misleading things that are said along the way."

The Chargers also could be looking to select the future replacement for star running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who will be back for his ninth NFL season after agreeing to a reworked contract in March. Whether the Chargers would pick a running back early in the draft is up for debate because San Diego will have both Tomlinson, who's looking to rebound from groin and toe injuries, and Darren Sproles in 2009. Sproles was franchised at $6.62 million.

The Chargers might also be looking for a future replacement for star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who missed all but one game of 2008 after having knee surgery. Merriman could be moving on for big money elsewhere when his contract expires after next season.

The draft is just one area where the Chargers can improve. Smith has put some players on notice they need to play better.

While admitting he needs to "pick up my game on my end," Smith said he's not sure whether some Chargers have a future in San Diego.

"Sometimes I'm very comfortable with what I think about their futures. There are some - and they know who they are - I'm not sure. And they're going to have the opportunity to rebound," Smith said in late February during his annual news conference on the eve of free agency.

Naturally, he didn't name names. But Smith has been criticized for giving multiyear deals to players who haven't responded with better play, namely linebackers Matt Wilhelm and Jyles Tucker, and safety Clinton Hart.

"I know players have to play. If players play, they make you look good," Smith said. "If they don't perform, they don't make you look real good. Bottom line is, those players are a reflection on who brought them in or decisions that were made to bring them in here. I don't know if I'm being hard on myself. I'm being quite honest with you."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 20, 2009

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Chris Chambers Name: Chris Chambers
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