Chargers Shock and Awe During 2009 NFL Draft

The Chargers completed their draft with their share of surprises and safe picks.

Needing to fill various, the Chargers elected to add to a strength -- getting to the quarterback in their 3-4 defense.

Larry English, a pass-rusher out of Northern Illinois, was worthy of the 16th overall pick. This despite the Chargers banking on outside linebacker Shawne Merriman's return next season and Shaun Phillips being productive on the other side.

But the Chargers went with English, a demon in the MAC where he was the player of the year the past two seasons.

"I think I've said unless we shore up the defense, we're not going to go where we need to go," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said. "We need to bring pressure. This is a guy that can bring the heat."

Merriman, the team's biggest weapon in pestering quarterbacks, returns with a rebuilt knee and a wobbly future. He's back, but his long-term situation in San Diego isn't certain.

His 39.5 sacks his first three years led to three Pro Bowls. But he is a free agent after the upcoming season, and just maybe the Chargers are protecting themselves in case he leaves.

"I wouldn't read that into it," coach Norv Turner said.

But the Chargers have to do something -- with or without Merriman -- about their sorry pass defense. It finished 31st last season as teams regularly ditched the running game to expose the Chargers' biggest weakness on either side of the ball.

The third of their eight picks was also a bit of surprise. They went with Vaughn Martin, a Jamaican native playing out of Western University in Ontario.

He played two seasons there, with 92 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.

Martin could start off playing on the outside, but possibly has the size to land at tackle at some point.

But Martin is making a huge leap from playing in Canada to the NFL.

"Obviously he played at a lower level of competition than the typical Division I college, but our guys loved how he showed flashes of dominance," said Chargers Director of College Scouting John Spanos. "He moves like a guy that is smaller. He has tremendous upside and his best football is ahead of him."

The Chargers hope so.

They possibly plugged holes along both lines, running back and in two spots in the secondary. Smith had to be busy, as he seldom adds significant players through free agency.

He needs prove his Midas draft touch once again.

OG Louis Vasquez

BEST PICK: Keep an eye on Louis Vasquez, a third-round offensive lineman choice out of Texas Tech. His reputation is one of being ornery, and the spot at right guard is wide open. The Chargers are hoping Kynan Forney can start there, but they will give Vasquez a long look. Among the questions is his ability to run-block after playing in the spread in college.

COULD SURPRISE: Wide receiver Demetrius Byrd fell to the Chargers with their final pick after his stock dropped considerably following his recent car accident. The Chargers expect him to compete for a roster spot.

A closer look at the Chargers' picks:

Round 1/16 - Larry English, LB, 6-2, 255, Northern Illinois

The Chargers add another pass-rusher on the edge to a 3-4 alignment already featuring Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips.

Round 3/78 - Louis Vasquez, G, 6-5, 333, Texas Tech

With Mike Goff leaving in free agency, the Chargers need to spice up the competition at his old right guard spot.

Round 4/113 -- Vaughn Martin, DL, 6-3, 331, Western University, Ontario, Canada

The Chargers go beyond the border to add depth along the line. Martin could possible play tackle as well as end at his size. He put on an amazing workout that opened the eyes of NFL scouts.

Round 4/133 -- Tyronne Green, G/C, 6-2, 309, Auburn

Team likes his SEC roots and will have him play behind Nick Hardwick for starters.

Round 4/134 -- Gartrell Johnson, RB, 5-10, 219, Colorado State

Chargers figured to address their long-term need at running back at some point, and they feel good about Johnson's potential.

Round 5/148 -- Brandon Hughes, CB, 5-10, 182, Oregon State

A draft doesn't come and go with GM A.J. Smith looking to beef up his pass defense on the back end.

Round 6/189 -- Kevin Ellison, S, 6-1, 227, Southern Cal

Team looks to add to the safety competition and Ellison was well thought of before his last year in college was derailed by an injury. He still was all-Pac-10.

Round 7/224 -- Demetrius Byrd, WR, 6-3, 200, Louisiana State

Byrd is projection as the Chargers hope he bounces back from a recent car accident.

DL Vaughn Martin

NOTES, QUOTES

--The team's third-round pick, Vaughn Martin, was found above the northern border by a keen Chargers scout, according to director of college scouting John Spanos.

"Our northeastern scout (Tom Gibbons) went up to Canada for a workout that was attended by multiple teams," Spanos said. "We looked into everything about his background and ability on the field. We felt lucky he was still there when we picked because we liked him all along."

--The Chargers are hoping safety Kevin Ellison can stay healthy after having three knee surgeries at USC.

"He's a strong safety that is real big and physical and strong against the run," Spanos said. "He's a very instinctive and aware player that plays faster than his 40 time. He played on one of the best college defenses in the nation."

--GM A.J. Smith hopes he hits another homer with another SEC offensive lineman Tyronne Green, a fourth-round pick from Auburn. Green is a 6-foot-2, 309-pounder that earned All-SEC honors after beginning his college career as a defensive lineman.

"Most people know the Southeastern Conference is a running conference, a physical conference," said Jimmy Raye, the team's Director of Player Personnel. "He's played against a lot of guys that are now in the NFL like (LSU's) Glenn Dorsey. We think that will translate well to his play in the NFL."

Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeill, a two-time Pro Bowler, played at Auburn.

--Wide receiver Demetrius Byrd will not participate in the minicamps as he recovers from a car accident.

"We drafted Demetrius because he's a good football player," Spanos said. "When he and his doctors say he's physically ready, that's when we'll start thinking about his future with the Chargers.

"Right now we're only thinking about his well-being and wishing him a complete healthy recovery. Football should be secondary for him right now."

-- The Chargers' minicamp next month will not be open to the fans. A flood during the offseason damaged the facility, which prevents the team from entertaining spectators.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to bring pressure. This is a guy that can bring the heat. (He's) physical, nasty, a great presence. We're going to give him to Coach (Ron) Rivera and turn him loose." -- Chargers general manager A.J. Smith on first-round pick Larry English.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FRANCHISE PLAYER: RB Darren Sproles: Tendered at $6.621M.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--OLB Marques Harris was used on passing downs and has shown some promise, but he won't be re-signed.

--C Jeremy Newberry was a valuable backup when Nick Hardwick was injured early last season, but the Chargers won't re-sign him.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--WR Malcom Floyd (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) has a good connection with QB Philip Rivers and can be a solid red-zone target. Injuries slowed him some down the stretch last year.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--OT Jeromey Clary: ERFA; $460,000/1 yr.
--OG Kynan Forney: Potential UFA; $4.8M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
--CB Cletis Gordon: RFA; $1.545M/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--LB Kevin Burnett: UFA Cowboys; $5.5M/2 yrs, $2M SB.

PLAYERS LOST

--RB Eldra Buckley (released).
--OG Mike Goff: UFA Chargers; $3.5M/2 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--DE Igor Olshansky: UFA Cowboys; $18M/4 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--LB Anthony Waters (released).

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