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Bolts could eye tackle at No. 11 in NFL draft

April 23, 2013

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Left tackle? Left guard? Trade up? Trade down? Stay put?

So many questions for the San Diego Chargers’ rookie brain trust, and so many ways they can go in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night.

Even casual Chargers fans who saw Philip Rivers scrambling for his well-being all last season know San Diego desperately needs to upgrade the left side of its line, particularly at tackle to protect the quarterback’s blind side.

But holding the 11th overall pick puts the Chargers in somewhat of a no man’s land, a spot that’s not high enough that the team is assured of getting Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, the third of the three top-rated tackles.

San Diego was consigned to that spot by a win over the lowly Oakland Raiders in a meaningless season finale, with the Chargers already assured of missing the playoffs for the third straight season and coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith one day away from being fired.

So it’s up to rookie GM Tom Telesco to attempt to undo the damage Smith did to the roster, both in unproductive recent drafts and in an uncharacteristic free agent frenzy last offseason that stuck the Bolts with bad contracts and underwhelming players.

The Chargers’ needs are many, starting with left tackle. They could also use a left guard, a defensive tackle, inside and outside linebackers and a safety.

Rivers was sacked 49 times last year and committed 22 turnovers, many because he was under siege so much of the time. Toward the end of the season, he’d often drop back and have to throw the ball into the ground because the line couldn’t hold off the pass rush.

The Chargers still haven’t adequately replaced left tackle Marcus McNeill and left guard Kris Dielman, who were forced to retire after the 2011 season due to injuries.

San Diego thought big Jared Gaither was the answer at left tackle, but they cut the player nicknamed “The Big Lazy” after an unproductive, injury-riddled 2012 season raised serious questions about his work ethic.

Left guard Tyronne Green is an unrestricted free agent.

For the time being, King Dunlap, one of three offensive linemen picked up via free agency, is the top left tackle. The Chargers lost right guard Louis Vasquez to Denver.

“Sure it’s something we’re looking to address, yeah,” is as specific as Telesco got when asked about the need to bolster the offensive line.

“No. 1, we don’t rank our needs,” said Telesco, who learned the importance of building through the draft while working in the Indianapolis Colts’ front office. “To me, if you start ranking your needs, it may start influencing your draft board, so we have positions we think we’d like to add players to and then after that we let the board tell us where to go. We don’t rank our players 1-255. It’s more of a horizontal look by position and then we’ll rank each player against each other at different positions. But we let the board tell us where to go.”

Important stuff, considering that Telesco calls the draft board “a living, breathing thing.”

The top two tackles, Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, are expected to be long gone by the 11th pick. There’s a chance Johnson will still be there, and the Chargers are known to like him.

Telesco said the Chargers would consider taking a guard at No. 11, perhaps Chance Warmack of Alabama or Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina.

The Chargers could trade up, although with as many needs as they have, it’d be more likely that they’d trade down, which would allow them to stockpile picks.

New coach Mike McCoy shares Telesco’s view of building through the draft.

“The big thing is, when you get done with the draft is, how did you improve your football team?” McCoy said. “Without a doubt, you always want to keep the guys you draft and re-sign them so it’s not just developmental for some other team. With today’s salary cap, you’ve got to make tough decisions some of the time and we’re going to do whatever we can to draft the right guys and re-sign them and keep them here long term.”

Even with all the changes that have been made since the new regime took over, Telesco and McCoy say the Chargers aren’t rebuilding.

“Nope,” McCoy said, “because we have a core and a foundation here and we’re building to win as many games this year as we can, and to win over time.”

The Chargers were 7-9 last year.

“You know, we don’t like to use that word because it makes it sound like we don’t care about winning right now,” Telesco said. “I want to win right now. Mike wants to win right now. We want to build this as we go, but there’s a lot of transition that’s going to happen between now and then. There’s no timetable to how long it’s going to take.”

Telesco was No. 2 in the Colts from office when they went from 2-14 in 2011 to 11-5 and the playoffs behind Andrew Luck, who was taken with the first pick overall in last year’s draft.

“Where I just came from, we tried to turn it over as fast as we could and try to win as we get there. That’s going to be the plan here,” Telesco said.

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