NFL Nation: Steve Williams

Combine preview: San Diego Chargers

February, 20, 2014
2/20/14
10:15
AM ET
Like most other NFL organizations, the San Diego Chargers are a team that builds and maintains its roster through the draft. General manager Tom Telesco doesn’t necessarily put any more value on securing impact players through the draft, versus trade or free agency.

But annually selecting rookies that can make an impact on a team’s roster is important, particularly when you consider the player will be under the team’s control for at least four years, likely at an inexpensive salary.

So getting detailed medical evaluations and vetting players through the intense interviewing process are the most important things for teams this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Of the 53 players that finished the season on San Diego’s roster, 23 were secured through the draft, compared to 27 free agents, two through trades, and one claimed off waivers.

The Chargers have seven original picks in this year’s draft, one in each round beginning with the No. 25 overall pick. So they will be paying close attention to the more than 330 players invited to this year’s combine.

Along with evaluating draft prospects, Telesco will have an opportunity to meet with middle linebacker Donald Butler's representation as the Chargers try to get him signed to a multi-year deal before he hits free agency next month.

Here are five things to keep an eye on regarding the Chargers.

1. Physical cornerbacks who can turn and run: A major area of need for San Diego is improving the overall talent and depth at cornerback. Last year’s top free agent signee Derek Cox likely will not be back after being supplanted in the starting lineup by Richard Marshall. San Diego’s 2013 fifth-round selection Steve Williams could work into the conversation at corner in 2014. The Cal product sat out his rookie year after suffering a torn pectoral muscle during preseason play. But the Chargers need to add a couple physical corners who can cover -- through the draft, free agency or trade. Some names to keep an eye on include Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy. Those players stand out to me because of their length, athleticism and playmaking ability.

2. Edge rushers needed: The Chargers have several veterans at this position, but you can never have enough athletes who can rush the passer. And San Diego struggled at creating consistent pressure, particularly on third down. Three guys potentially available on Day 1 of the draft who could make an impact include Missouri’s Kony Ealy, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, and Auburn’s Dee Ford.

3. A run-stuffing defensive tackle: San Diego gave up an average of 4.59 yards per carry on defense in 2013, No. 29 in the NFL. Cam Thomas started the most games at defensive tackle, but will be a free agent in March. Sean Lissemore finished as the team’s starter at the end of the season, but needs to add some bulk to effectively fill this position. San Diego could certainly use a two-gap defensive tackle to control the middle of the defense, similar to Dontari Poe in Kansas City. Potential candidates in the draft include Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III, Minnesota’s Ra'Shede Hageman, and Penn State’s Daquan Jones.

4. Improved interior offensive line depth: With center Nick Hardwick contemplating retirement and veteran guard Jeromey Clary a potential salary-cap causality, the Chargers need to add some depth to the interior of the offensive line. Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson and Stanford’s David Yankey are the top rated guards in this year’s draft. And USC’s Marcus Martin could be the long-term answer for a team at center.

5. Add a couple explosive playmakers: San Diego could use some help in the return game. Keenan Allen should not be the team’s main punt returner. He’s too valuable on offense. And the Chargers could use someone with some juice in the kick return game. Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, and Oregon’s De'Anthony Thomas makes some sense because of their ability to create explosive plays on offense and in the return game. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers needs a few more weapons on offense to make his job easier, and all three of these players would fit the bill.
It seems the San Diego Chargers’ left tackle job is still open and a familiar face may be getting back in the mix.

U-T San Diego reported second-year player Mike Harris was working with the first unit Saturday. The San Diego offensive line, the team’s biggest question mark, was beaten badly at Chicago on Thursday.

King Dunlap, who had been the starter this summer, was working as a backup right tackle and his competition, Max Starks, was working behind Harris. Harris was the starter at left tackle as an undrafted rookie last season.

The team was trying to upgrade. I still think Dunlap has the inside shot at the job, but this development shows the team still has big concerns at the vital spot.

In other San Diego notes:

Defensive end Corey Liuget, who was banged up at Chicago on Thursday, didn’t practice Saturday. The team said Thursday he was taken out of the game as a precaution. Rookie inside linebacker Manti Te’o continues to be in a walking boot. He was hurt in the preseason opener nine days ago. Last Saturday, San Diego coach Mike McCoy said Te’o, a starter, would be out a week. Nickel cornerback Johnny Patrick is out. He injured his jaw at Chicago. U-T San Diego reports cornerback Steve Williams, a fifth-round draft pick, tore his pectoral muscle at Chicago and he will miss the season.

Malcolm Floyd was working on the side Saturday. He suffered a knee strain Monday. The team is hopeful he can play in Week 1 against Houston.
After more than 25 years with the team, a professional sports trailblazer has departed the Oakland Raiders.

Amy Trask had been Raiders CEO since 1997. She was the first woman in a major leadership role in professional sports.

Trask was known for being a staunch supporter and confidante of the late Al Davis -- essentially an extension of Davis in an ownership role until his death in October 2011. Her departure is not surprising; there has been rumbling that Mark Davis, son of Al Davis, has been looking to take the Raiders' business side in a new direction. Davis could make a new hire whose focus would be on securing a new stadium.

Trask was known for being tough and strong-willed. She was well respected in the NFL community. I wouldn’t be surprised if she lands another job soon in professional sports.

In other AFC West news:

Oakland coach Dennis Allen said the expected Saturday: The Raiders will remain a 4-3 base defense but will use some 3-4 looks.

The Chargers have signed their fifth-round draft pick, cornerback Steve Williams, leaving tackle D.J. Fluker, their first-round selection, as the lone draftee still to come to terms.
Here are some random draft thoughts:
  • The Chargers added another interesting young cornerback -- Cal’s Steve Williams in the fifth round. He has a chance to quickly climb the depth chart.
  • Denver added yet another interesting receiving weapon when they took Georgia’s Tavarres King in the fifth round. He averaged more than 19 yards per catch for his career.
  • I like the two tight ends Oakland took in the sixth round, Colorado’s Nick Kasa and Tennessee’s Mychal Rivera. This is a two tight end league, so it makes sense. These picks put some pressure on David Ausberry. He has yet to develop. He better do it now or the youngsters will take his job.
  • The Raiders took a promising Division II pass-rusher in David Bass of Missouri Western in the seventh round. He has natural pass-rush skills. Yet, he is a long-term project.
  • Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie did a nice job wheeling and dealing. He turned seven picks into 10. That is important for a team that is totally rebuilding. All 10 players have a legitimate chance to make Oakland’s roster.
  • For what it’s worth, Kansas City coach Andy Reid said the Chiefs were not going to take USC quarterback with the second pick of the fourth round. The Eagles moved up ahead of the Chiefs and took Matt Barkley with the first pick of the day. Barkley said he heard the Chiefs were interested in him. Kansas City did not take a quarterback.
  • Reid said fourth-round pick Nico Johnson will compete with free-agent newcomer Akeem Jordan for an starting inside linebacker spot. My money is on Johnson. Big-league player.
  • The Packers are reportedly interested in trading running back James Starks. Oakland could use another running back. It did take Central Florida’s Latavius Murray in the sixth round.
  • With the Vikings drafting a punter, perhaps Chris Kluwe will become free at some point and perhaps Oakland could show interest. It only has unproven Marquette King in the aftermath of longtime star Shane Lechler signing with Houston.
  • Reid said fifth-round pick Sanders Commings will play free safety and seventh-rounder Mike Catapano will play outside linebacker. The Princeton product has strong pass-rush skills.
  • New Denver pass-rusher Shaun Phillips -- the former Charger who signed Saturday -- said he is fine playing defensive end in a 4-3. He was a linebacker in the Chargers' 3-4. Regardless of the spot, Philips’ position will be as a pass-rusher and he will be moved around.

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