Under the direction of new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, the San Diego Chargers turned a weakness into a strength last season.
The Chargers struggled to protect quarterback Philip Rivers in 2012. But with a switch to a short passing game, Rivers was sacked just 30 times last season. San Diego’s offensive line also paved the way for a career-high 1,255 rushing yards for Ryan Mathews.
And even with six different starting offensive line combinations, San Diego still played consistent up front. But center Nick Hardwick turns 33 in September, and right guard Jeromey Clary is 30, so the Chargers need a long-term answer at interior offensive line.
San Diego also could use some more depth at tackle, with Dunlap suffering through concussion issues last season. So it would not be a surprise if San Diego looks to take an offensive lineman early in this year’s draft.
Best OL drafted since 2004: Selected in the third round of the 2009 draft, Louis Vasquez was one of the strongest lineman in his draft class, starting 54 games in four seasons for San Diego. Vasquez signed a lucrative, multi-year deal with the Denver Broncos last year, did not give up a sack and earned his first Pro Bowl invitation.
Worst OL drafted since 2004: Selected in the fifth round of the 2005 draft, Wesley Britt was released during final roster cuts his rookie year, and signed with New England’s practice squad. The University of Alabama product played 16 career games in three years with the Patriots, including two starts.
OL depth chart: Starters – LT King Dunlap ($1.75 million in total compensation in 2014), LG Chad Rinehart ($2.75 million), C Nick Hardwick ($4.4 million), RG Jeromey Clary ($4.55 million), RT D.J. Fluker ($923,295). Reserves – C/G Rich Ohrnberger ($795,000), C Nick McDonald ($662,750), T Willie Smith ($645,000), T Mike Harris ($570,000), T Nick Becton ($495,000), T Kenny Wiggins ($495,000) and G Johnnie Troutman ($495,000).
A review of offensive linemen San Diego might select in each round of this year’s draft:
First round, No. 25 pick: Xavier Su'a-Filo, 6-foot-4, 307 pounds, UCLA
Eric’s rationale: He’s versatile, fits San Diego’s scheme and plays with a mean streak.
Second round, No. 57 pick: Joel Bitonio, 6-4, 302, Nevada
Eric’s rationale: An offensive tackle in college, but projects to guard in the NFL.
Third round, No. 89 pick: Gabe Jackson, 6-3, 336, Mississippi State
Eric’s rationale: Big, physical and a road grader in the running game.
Fourth round, No. 125 pick: David Yankey, 6-6, 315, Stanford
Eric’s rationale: A good athlete who could pick things up quickly in terms of scheme.
Fifth round, No. 165 pick: Brandon Thomas, 6-3, 317, Clemson
Eric’s rationale: Projected to go higher, but suffered a torn ACL during a workout.
Sixth round, No. 201 pick: Garrett Scott, 6-5, 307, Marshall
Eric’s rationale: A developmental project that could fill in depth at tackle.
Seventh round, No. 240 pick: Brian Clarke, 6-2, 300, Bloomsburg
Eric’s rationale: Good athlete and strong run blocker.