- By Tom Shanahan, San Diego Hall of Champions
The Chargers used both of their two first-round draft picks on defensive players they believe will help them in two areas — the defensive front as well as the secondary.
San Diego selected Maryland defensive end/outside linebacker Shawne Merriman with the 12th pick and Northwestern defensive tackle Luis Castillo with the 28th choice. In the second round, San Diego selected Northern Colorado wide receiver/return man Vincent Jackson.
“We’re excited about the acquisition of Shawne,” Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. “We’ve been looking to try to find a way to get additional pressure out of our defense on the quarterback. Our pass defense a year ago was not ranked where it needs to be to be a championship football team. People always look at the back end of this thing and say it’s the secondary. But I think all of us here realize that has a lot do with the ability to pressure the quarterback.”
In Sunday’s second day of the draft, the Chargers selected Kansas State running back Darren Sproles in the fourth round, Alabama offensive tackle Wesley Britt in the fifth round, Oklahoma offensive guard Wes Sims in the sixth round and Bowling Green center Steve Mruckowski.
Merriman was the 12th pick of Saturday’s draft, a choice the AFC West champions acquired a year ago from the New York Giants as part of the Eli Manning trade on Draft Day that was engineered by general manager A.J. Smith.
“If you all like Steve Foley, I think you’re going to love this guy,” said Smith, referring to the outside linebacker who led the Chargers with 10 sacks last year. “Tough, physical, nasty, fast; brings a great presence to our defense. We’re all very excited and can’t wait for him to get here and help us win.”
The Chargers’ used their second pick of the first round, the 28th pick overall, on Northwestern defensive tackle Luis Castillo (6-3, 303).
“Luis Castillo is somebody we had targeted, and we’re very excited,” Smith said. “It’s obviously been a defensive emphasis in the first round. We were definitely going to go defense on top (with the 12th pick), and down below (28th) we had a group of players who we were flexible with to go either way. When he was there, we decided to take a double dip on defense.”
Merriman, who entered the draft following his junior year, was rated an All-American first-team choice by The NFL Draft Report, a rating that includes an athlete’s pro potential as well as his college production. He was named a second-team All-American by “The Sporting News” and a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I’m real excited,” Merriman said. “I came out there on my visit and I got a chance to visit with the coaching staff. I was really impressed with everything. I was hoping to be a Charger, and here I am.”
Merriman recorded 8.5 sacks with 10 quarterback pressures and a career-high 85 tackles last year. In his previous two seasons at Maryland, he recorded 8.5 sacks in 2003 and 5 in 2002. His 22 career sacks were good for 127 yards in losses.
Merriman’s nickname is “Lights Out” for his heavy hits, but he also fits the mold of quicker, smaller defensive ends who can rush the quarterback such as Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney (6-1, 268), Miami’s Jason Taylor (6-6, 255) and Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs (6-3, 260). Freeney (2002) and Suggs (2003) were first-round draft picks that made an immediate impact on their team as rookies.
Merriman’s athleticism includes a 41.5-inch vertical jump that set a Maryland school record for defensive linemen. He played high school basketball at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, MD., with the younger brother of Washington Redskins’ outside linebacker LaVar Arrington and often worked out with Arrington while in college.
The selection of Merriman is the fourth player the Chargers have added to their roster as a result of the Manning trade that netted quarterback Philip Rivers and three draft picks.
In addition to Rivers and Merriman out of the last two first rounds, the other two draft picks resulted in the Chargers adding kicker Nate Kaeding and offensive tackle Roman Oben to the 2004 roster. The Chargers drafted Kaeding with a third-round pick gained from the Giants and sent a fifth-round pick in 2005 gained from the Giants to Tampa Bay in a trade for Oben.
The Chargers said Castillo’s postive test for steriods at the NFL Combine was a non-issue.
After his positive test, Castillo said he and his agent wrote letters to all 32 NFL teams to explain it was a one-time mistake on his part in an effort to help his elbow to heal so he could lift weights and perform at the NFL Combine in February.
“As soon as I found out, we wrote letters to the teams and I said we would put in writing in my contract that I will never test positive for steroids again, and if I do I would give back my entire signing bonus,” Castillo said. “I never needed it to play football and I’ll never need it again. I made a one-time mistake and it will never happen again.”
Smith and Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer said they were satisfied with the results of their investigation.
“It’s a non-issue for us,” Smith said. “We have an investigative process we went through and we’re very comfortable with it. If we were uncomfortable with it, he would not be a San Diego Charger.”