My first reaction was to author a piece like the one I described would be considered a wee bit callous. After all, I often joked about Butler’s “Jabbaesque” appearance and was especially harsh when I found his moves to be dubious. But the more I read about Butler from those who were closest to him convinced me that he would want people to turn their attention to football—especially the draft. Apparently, he and A.J. Smith, who has now been named his successor, were going over their plans up until the very end. So, JoBu, it is in your honor that I give you my slant, however skewed, on the recent history of the Bolts and the draft.
Much like his predecessor, Bobby Beathard, John Butler loved draft day. In his brief tenure with the Chargers, he acquired a series of players whose success will single-handedly dictate the direction that the team takes in the immediate future. In 2001, he traded the rights to Michael Vick for what became LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees and Tim Dwight. With Vick’s breakout campaign last season, The Organization took a lot of heat for this move. The Mainstream Media always loves a juicy storyline, and “the Chargers traded the rights to football’s Michael Jordan” was there for the taking. During last season I suggested that the comparison between Vick and Jordan was due to the fact that Vick’s much-publicized “athleticism” could allow him to do things at his position that no one before him was capable of. But, like Jordan, Vick also showed last year that he could elevate the performance of those around him and turn his team into a winner (even though it hurts me to pay Jordan any sort of compliment as a Knick fan). Let’s just assume for a moment that Vick is able to turn the Falcons into Super Bowl champions, even once. Would that make the Bolts the gridiron equivalent of the Portland Trail Blazers? Absolutely not. LaDainian Tomlinson sure as hell ain’t no Sam Bowie. In last year’s overtime win against Denver, which would sadly be the last game the Chargers would win; LDT showed that he could single-handedly carry the team on his back even when the opposition was consumed with stopping him.
As good as Vick might end up being, would he have done that with the Bolts? It’s possible, even likely, but what state would that leave The Organization? In other words, could he have turned the Chargers into the winners that they have yet to become since the trade was made? That’s a lot less clear. The Chargers had and have a lot of holes to fill. With the pick, the Bolts acquired a franchise running back, their future quarterback and an instant jolt of energy at receiver and on special teams. Drew Brees showed both his potential and his flaws last season. Unfortunately, they were revealed to us in that order. I do, however, believe that he will eventually straighten out. He was, after all, in his first year as starter last season.
As for Tim Dwight, the Chargers will hopefully learn from his first injury-free season in Lightning Bolts. He can make phenomenal grabs with his athleticism, as he did in Oakland. He can also occasionally fail to make the routine catches, as he did in St. Louis. But while he cannot be expected to be a #1 receiver, as he was when Conway sat out most of the season’s second half, he can be a huge weapon. The Bolts learned first-hand when they played the Jets how pivotal it can be to have a special teams superstar. Dwight is worth the most to the Bolts when he’s making the most of his balls-out style and blazing speed. It’s easiest for him to do that on special teams.
Wasn’t I trying to look at the Chargers’ recent draft history? How did I find myself pontificating on the team’s many miscues? I’ll save that for after the draft. Point being, is that the Chargers at least broke even when dealt the Michael Vick selection. In time, we may be even able to confidently say that we won out when you look at the state of the team when Butler made the trade. Of course, the end of the Bobby Beathard Era made all Charger fans a little squeamish about ANY draft day maneuvers. Beathard was like the Francis Ford Coppola of General Managers—he had some incredible hits and some monumental bombs. Darrien Gordon was a budding star, but injuries made his asking price too high when it came time to negotiate his second contract came? Remember when he freaked out and drew all those penalties on Monday Night against the Traitors in 1995? Anyway, he was soon replaced by another Beathard selection, Stephen F. Austin’s Terrance Shaw. While Shaw has caught on with a handful of teams as a nickel back any self-respecting Charger fan (and even those without respect for themselves) remembers his unfathomable affinity for the pass interference penalty. The fact that Shaw has a Super Bowl ring from the Patriots is an INJUSTICE too grave to speak of.
Stanley Richard was a decent safety before he began to believe his own hype. Eric Moten was unable to keep from holding the opposition and was even worse after injury. Isaac Davis was looking pretty good until he came down with the same affliction. His propensity for holding cost us that Bryan Still touchdown at Candlestick in 1998. Of course, his subsequent release was as much intended to be a kick in the ass during that horrid season. Courtney Hall, the “Wormser-esque” alumni of Rice University, was an anchor on the line at center. Yet, when the Bolts let him slip away to the Broncos he never became the player we FEARED we were letting go. For every one of Beathard’s draft day gambles that succeeded like Natrone Means, there were busts like Bryan Still. It got to the point that Beathard HAD to trade down to the second round and look for that diamond in the rough because it was so expected of him. His reputation as a scouting genius depended on it. Freddie Jones has STILL yet to show that he can consistently display the soft hands and brute strength that his abilities have been teasing us with for years. Fortunately, he’s no longer our problem. Trevor Gaylor never made use of his height in San Diego, but looks pretty good on the receiving end of Michael Vick’s passes. Mikhael Ricks has shown flashes in Detroit. Charlie Jones was just never all that talented to begin with. Is it any wonder that we haven’t sent a receiver to the Pro Bowl since Anthony Miller?
John Butler may have remedied our horrid history of picking receivers in the draft with Reche Caldwell and Eric Parker. I can only hope that Caldwell’s fumble at Kansas City will eventually turn him into a better player. If Parker had only gotten both of his feet down in the end zone that day, the Chargers might have made the playoffs. There I go again being negative again. As Whitesnake once sang, “it’s the only road I’ve ever known”. At least that’s how it feels lately.
The late John Butler showed last year that he wasn’t afraid to take the best player available once the Chargers were on the clock, regardless of need. Quentin Jammer wasn’t really in the Bolts’ plans last year, mostly because they didn’t expect him to even be there. But look at the secondary now. If he’s half the player he was projected to be, we should be happy to have him. Tay Cody starting at the other corner? Ryan McNeil a converted safety? Rogers “I Can’t Tackle But I Have Nice Cornrows” Beckett on the other side? Not good.
With the David Boston and Lorenzo Neal signings, the Chargers have made it clear that they will be looking to improve the defense on Saturday. Jamal Williams had his season cut short for the second straight year, this thanks due to a cheap shot from Denver’s notorious offensive line. Unfortunately, the subsequent injury leaves the Bolts no choice to look for reinforcements at tackle. Is it any surprise that they lost every game after Williams went out? Miami’s William Joseph seems to be popular pick for the Bolts at #15. If you log onto AOL, all three “experts” have the Chargers taking him. Why not? Miami is basically a pro team, anyway. They’ve got as good a track record as any on churning out NFL players. The other option is taking a cornerback such as Woolfolk, should he be available. I think they’ll go with a tackle and look for a cornerback or safety in the later rounds. We took a blue-chip corner last year and can’t expect another one to come in and immediately start.
The reason I’ve always shied away from writing about the draft is that it seems than ever that it’s impossible to predict who will pan out in the pros. I know that’s not a popular thing to say to all those “draft gurus” who use their professional and/or personal time consumed with the whole analytical quality of the draft experience, from the scouting combine to the “war room.” I’ve just found that all these Mel Kipers emerge from their hole annually, the groundhog, and then aren’t heard from until the next year. Even the rare occasion that you can accurately predict the success of a player, your favorite team will be lucky to fit him under the salary cap once he blossoms into a star. But that’s the NFL in the 21st century for you.
Email me at: LucaB12@aol.com or via the following link: Justice Is Coming