Aug. 27, 2011; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick prepares to snap the ball against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Chargers O-Line (Plan B: Draft a Guard / Find a Tackle)

by James Fedewa

Tackle or Guard. Tuard or Gackle. Who will San Diego select in the first round?

75% of Chargers fans and Draft Experts have San Diego choosing an offensive tackle or an offensive guard with their first round pick. Obviously, it’s the biggest need in San Diego has to be the offensive line (since releasing Jared Gaither, losing Luis Vasquez and watching Tyronne Green find someone else to let down) . Since money & salary cap are very limited, there is not a lot the Chargers can do with new free agents. So GM Tom Telesco must revamp a bad offensive line and find three new starters and he wants to build through the draft.

Telesco has signed three “under the radar” types of offensive linemen in King Dunlap, Rich Ohrnberger and Chad Rinehart. All three additions seem like “depth” (and better than last season) but maybe one or two can turn into a quality every day starter. Rinehart and Dunlap both have ties with San Diego’s new offensive line coach Joe D’alessandris (“Coach Joe-D”). D’alessandris is an offensive line mastermind specializing in the zone blocking scheme, yet playing within the teams strengths (mixing zone and power blocking). Coach D’ is really going to have to start from scratch in San Diego since the only two starters from last years team are center Nick Hardwick and right tackle Jeremy Clary (both were below average last season, nor experienced in zone blocking). Coach D’s three years prior with the Buffalo Bills produce quality offensive linemen and with later round draft picks. So it’s safe to say San Diego’s biggest free agent offensive lineman (so far) is Coach Joe D’alessandris.

Current NFL draft projections could have the Chargers missing out of the top three left tackle prospects Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson. So the most logical thing to do is draft the next best position, a guard: either Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper. Both prospects look super on game tape and both are very unique with great qualities. But drafting either guard still leaves San Diego with a glaring need at left tackle, and the Chargers need a starter. So drafting a guard in the first round, San Diego would start Cooper or Warmack and still have to look for a starting left tackle with their second or third round pick. .

If Chance Warmack is selected in the first round, he’s a left guard. So Chargers fans can nearly guarantee two rookies starting on the left side of the o-line 2013, which is not necessarily desirable.

Now who will that starting left tackle be?

  • Left Tackle: King Dunlap (or Terron Armstead, Justin Pugh, Kyle Long, Dallas Thomas, Menelik Watson)
  • Left Guard: Chance Warmack, Troutman
  • Center: Hardwick, Molk, Baxter
  • Right Guard: Rinehart, Ohrnberger
  • Right Tackle: Jeromey Clary, Mike Harris

Typically, cohesiveness is the best quality about a starting five offensive line, which takes time, familiarity and practice. Starting two rookies within a starting five is a very large gamble and the odds do not favor rookie duos. Second or third round left tackles usually are very raw, and should not start immediately as rookies. However, even with King Dunlap starting, the offensive line is still an improvement from last year’s M.Harris, T.Green, Hardwick, Rinehart & Clary, especially with the addition of Coach Joe D’alessandris and his blocking scheme.

There are also trade options for a veteran left tackle, but San Diego is very limited within their small salary cap. The left tackle trading block isn’t typically big either. Some names floating around Chargers fans are:

  • Chiefs Branden Albert would cost too much, especially within the division.
  • Rams Rodger Saffold is in his final year of his rookie contract so he’s inexpensive (good for the Rams) but he’ll demand a lot more money in 2014 as a left tackle free agent and the Rams will not resign him (since signing Jake Long in free agency).
  • J’Marcus Webb has been replaced in Chicago. May be available in trade.
  • Doug Free may be on the chopping block in Dallas, and he has left tackle experience.
  • Levi Brown is making left tackle money in Arizona this year. If the decide to draft a left tackle in the draft, cutting Brown could save a lot of money for the Cardinals.
  • 33 year old Bryant McKinnie just won a Super Bowl in Baltimore and is still could be an inexpensive free agent.
  • Demetress Bell is a free agent, with ties with Coach D’. He’s an injury risk, but talented & probably too unreliable.
  • Jason Smith may be worth a shot at training camp fodder, as Coach D’ has a great reputation of making linemen look good.

If San Diego does miss out on blue chippers Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson, it’s not the end of the world for San Diego fans. Good coaching, new schemes, and new looks can fix holes.

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Tags: NFL Draft San Diego Chargers

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