Sports at Lunch, A.J. Smith and Eric Weddle


Chargers general manager A.J. Smith and rookie Eric Weddle spoke at Sports at Lunch on July 19 at the Hall of Champions in Balboa Park.


By Tom Shanahan,

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith works in an upstairs office overlooking the practice field at Chargers Park that is positioned between the his player personnel staff and club president Dean Spanos.

It’s in these offices that Spanos, Smith and his staff have met to formulate the plans that have led to the Chargers emerging as AFC West champions two of the last three years and enjoying a status as a Super Bowl contender entering the upcoming 2007 season.

On Thursday afternoon for a Sports at Lunch gathering that included second-round draft pick Eric Weddle, Smith brought his office to the San Diego Hall of Champions in Balboa Park by offering fans a description of the planning and philosophy that has been used in those rooms to build the Chargers.

“I think we are a good football team, and I’m looking forward to this season more than any season since I’ve been here,” Smith said. “I can’t wait for that first game against Chicago. We want to get this thing going and win enough games to be in the post-season. I’m proud of how far we’ve come. We have a plan. When I was hired by Dean Spanos, we spent three days going over this plan.”

Smith’s talk touched on the draft, signing free agents only when a player is the right fit and locking up young players to long-term contracts before they enter the free-agent market. The goal is to give the Chargers an extended window to qualify for the playoffs and have a chance at reaching the Super Bowl.

“The most important thing is to take care of our players who can help us win,” Smith said. “We have 29 (extended) contracts, so we must be making players and agents happy or they wouldn’t have signed. Dean Spanos is committed to winning. Sometimes the young players haven’t yet achieved a lot, but what we’re saying is we believe that player could be a future Pro Bowl player. Dean Spanos has stepped up and signed a lot of people to keep our window open. We’ve got guys signed for the next four or five years.”

Smith explained that he and his staff work on a priority list of players. He said the more an organization wins the tougher it is to keep players, but so far the Chargers have been successful at signing such stars as running back LaDainian Tomlinson, offensive linemen Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick and Shane Olivea, kicker Nate Kaeding, nose tackle Jamal Williams, cornerback Quentin Jammer and outside linebacker Shaun Phillips to long-term deals.

“You don’t want to have 18 guys going out on the market,” Smith said. “We want to keep the players that can help us win, and we’ve signed more players than I anticipated. The key last year was Kris Dielman. Had he not accepted a deal, that would have been a big blow for us. But we try to anticipate if we’re going to lose a player and then we try to prepare another player to be ready take over. When you prepare a player and then you’re able to still sign your player, then we have what I called ‘loaded for bear.’ We have depth with two or three people at that position.”

Smith was also asked about his thinking process when the Chargers opted to take Georgia cornerback Paul Oliver last week in the supplementary draft. Using the fourth-round pick on Oliver now means the Chargers won’t have that pick in the 2008 April draft.

“We think he’s a very good football player,” Smith said. “We thought as a staff that, first of all, his character is solid. He’s confident and aggressive. He’s not a cautious or passive player and his style intrigues us. He doesn’t have great speed, but we think he’s a terrific player. The bottom line is we added a good football player that makes the San Diego Chargers better. We added depth in the secondary and we can line up three deep.“

Weddle is another one of the players the Chargers added to the secondary in the 2007 draft. He has the versatility to play safety and cornerback, although the Chargers plan to use him his rookie year as a safety in nickel and dime formations.

“Playing safety I can do more things,” Weddle said. “You’re in the box and you can play man or zone. I like playing both safety and corner and think I can excel at both positions. But it’s really about what the team needs, and I right now that’s safety.”

It was in those Chargers Park meeting rooms that Smith and his staff decided to use a second-round draft pick on Weddle for his versatility. And for an afternoon over lunch at the Hall of Champions, Smith offered a look at what goes on in those meeting rooms.

What else did Smith and Weddle say? You should have been at Sports at Lunch.

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