Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/notes.htm" target="_blank">USA Today</a>
<div class="alignright"><a href="http://media.mercedsunstar.com/smedia/2009/12/21/23/MER_p1222_S22_MATHEWS.standalone.prod_affiliate.111.JPG"><img title="Ryan Mathews" src="http://media.mercedsunstar.com/smedia/2009/12/21/23/MER_p1222_S22_MATHEWS.standalone.prod_affiliate.111.JPG" alt="" width="168" height="181" /></a></div>
The Chargers' two biggest needs entering the draft were clear: running back and defensive tackle. After the first round, it was apparent which trumped the other.</div>
Hello, Ryan Mathews.
The Chargers, anchored at the No. 28 overall spot, shot up the draft board 16 positions to draft Mathews. However, getting the Fresno State star was expensive, as the Chargers surrendered quite a ransom to make this Bulldog a Bolt.
The Dolphins flipped first-round and fourth-round spots with the Chargers for San Diego's second rounder and linebacker Tim Dobbins. The Chargers also acquired Miami's sixth-round pick.
That's a lot. But according to coach Norv Turner it was worth it.
"When you see this guy play, you'll understand why we made this deal," Turner said. "I know our offensive line is going to be thrilled to get him here. I think Ryan's going to be excited to be here when he gets around our guys. He knows we're a good football team. He knows we're a very good offensive football team."
But it's an offensive attack which leaned heavily in one direction - passing. While there is no discounting that Philip Rivers is among the NFL's elite quarterbacks, the Chargers running game was ranked near the bottom in every significant category.
In Mathews, who left school a year early, they get a running back who led the nation in rushing yards per game. Mathews, who rushed for 19 touchdowns last year, will try and replace LaDainian Tomlinson. It's neat because Tomlinson is Mathews' NFL idol.
"He's my favorite running back," Mathews said. "It's really an honor. You can't fill shoes like that; LaDainian wore his own shoes. He is great and he is really something else."
What Mathews supplies is the every-down back the Chargers seek. While Darren Sproles is a fantastic third-down runner and a threat on returns, pointing his slight frame toward the line's interior is useless.
And while he mimicked Tomlinson, Mathews will run more inside than the ex-Charger great.
"I tried to model myself after L.T. but he's a different guy," said Mathews, who rushed for 3,280 yards at Fresno State. "My style is more in between the tackles a little.
"I'm fast enough to get around the corner, I have great vision, I hit the hole pretty well and I think I'm just an all-round running back.
"I think with me and Sproles back there it is really going to change a lot. It's going to be a great combination I think and something special to watch."
And while it came at a high cost, the Chargers can at least scratch off their biggest need. For Turner, when Mathews came aboard it came with a familiar feeling. Back when he was the Chargers' offensive coordinator in 2001, Turner wore a similar smile when another Western Athletic Conference running back was selected.
"I was here when we drafted L.T. and I remember how excited I was that day," Turner said. "I'm equally excited to get Ryan in here. He's extremely special and is a complete back. He has great feet and great vision."
The Chargers' sights - and it can't be made any clearer - are set on the Super Bowl. They have been eliminated from the playoffs the past two years, in part, because their running game wasn't effective.
They hope that changes with the move of going from Tomlinson to Mathews. They certainly weren't shy about paying the freight to make it happen.
"It makes me feel great," Mathews said. "They could have had just held back until the 28th pick and crossed their fingers I would be there. But they really took a stand and it really shows me a lot, it really does."
Soon it will be time for Mathews to show the Chargers that they didn't make a mistake.
-The Chargers have started their 2010 workouts, which means they can finally file away 2009.
Uh, to a degree.
"I don't think that game will ever leave us," quarterback Philip Rivers said of the Chargers' playoff debacle in losing to the Jets. "That taste needs to be in our mouth throughout the summer.
"But now is the time you really push forward and look ahead."
With the weights banging again at Chargers Park and the brass upstairs formulating a draft plan, there is a new buzz around the team.
That doesn't mean that dreadful playoff day when they hit the third rail against the Jets is forgotten. But what's that they say about spilled milk?
"I know it's early and anybody can be enthused and going hard the first week," Rivers said. "But this first week has been unbelievable. The attendance and the guys that have been in there early. Our 7:30 group has never been as big as it has been - that doesn't mean they work harder than the 10 o'clock group, I'm just saying they are energized and excited about going."
That sinking sensation of being upset by the upstart Jets is almost going, going, gone. Rather than reflect on what could have been, Rivers is looking at the future - while looking at the Colts.
"Much has been made of a Colts' comparison how they kept getting in there and getting beat, getting beat but you just have to keep doing it," said Rivers, as the Chargers have lost three of their four playoff games. "Eventually, you hope, you're going to get over the top."
-New CB Nathan Vasher is fitting in during the off-season weightlifting sessions. "I knew it would be a perfect situation for me to get here and help out because the team is already so good," Vasher noted. "With those guys being here and with Quentin (Jammer) being here and some other guys who I'm familiar with, it's really just icing on the cake." Vasher and Jammer were teammates at the University of Texas.
-QB Philip Rivers threw out the first pitch in the Padres' opener. The man who makes his living by being accurate was well off the plate with his offering.
-With LaDainian Tomlinson off to the Jets, CB Quentin Jammer touched base with his old teammate to ask if he could take over his locker. "I couldn't think of anyone better," Tomlinson replied. Jammer and Tomlinson were not only NFL teammates, but as Texas high school all-star players as well.
<strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "It would be crazy and they would need a little more room on that stage." - QB Philip Rivers on how he could duplicate Drew Brees' act of lifting his son and the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning the Super Bowl; Rivers has five children.
<strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong>
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
-C Dennis Norman is at a spot where the team has depth and likely won't come back.
-OL Jon Runyan is going to retire and run for Congress.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
-*OLB Marques Harris (not tendered as RFA) is a decent pass rusher but the Chargers will likely see him go where he would get more of a chance to contribute.
-*LB Dontarrious Thomas (not tendered as RFA) seldom saw the field when arriving late last year and appears to be a goner.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
-*WR Malcom Floyd (tendered at $3.168M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) could likely get more passes thrown his way elsewhere, but he likes San Diego and will likely take a little less to remain here.
-*WR Vincent Jackson (tendered at $3.268M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) is the team's top receiver and will be brought back - unless the team has grown tired of his immaturity; that's doubtful after two 1,000-yard seasons.
-*DL Travis Johnson (tendered at $1.226M with first-round pick as compensation) will probably have to settle for less money, but the former first-round pick of the Texans might have found a home in San Diego.
-*LT Marcus McNeill (tendered at $3.168M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) is a stud at left tackle and among the team's biggest offseason priorities.
-*OLB Shawne Merriman (tendered at $3.168M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) will return, possibly, if willing to swallow his pride and lower his price tag. A motivated Merriman playing on a one-year deal could be attractive to the Chargers.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
-OLB Antwan Applewhite (tendered at $470,000) can deliver a burst off the ball and is keen on special teams. He should be brought back.
-DT Alfonso Boone: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
-OT Jeromey Clary: RFA; (tendered at $1.684M with second-round pick as compensation); $1.684M/1 yr.
-*ILB Tim Dobbins (tendered at $1.176M with fifth-round pick as compensation) is a solid backup after getting lapped by Brandon Siler.
-*DT Antonio Garay: Not tendered as RFA; terms unknown.
-DT Ian Scott: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
-*RB Darren Sproles: RFA; (tendered at $7.283M with first- and third-round picks as compensation); $7.283M/1 yr.
-FB Mike Tolbert: ERFA; $470,000/1 yr.
-TE Kris Wilson: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
-RB Marcus Mason (waivers Redskins).
-CB Donald Strickland: FA Jets; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
-CB Nate Vasher: FA Bears; $4.5M/2 yrs.
-RB Michael Bennett (released).
-WR Demetrius Byrd (released/non-football injury).
-CB Antonio Cromartie (traded Jets).
-*C Eric Ghiaciuc: Not tendered as RFA/Browns; terms unknown.
-TE Brandon Manumaleuna: UFA Bears; $15M/5 yrs, $$2M SB/$3M RB.
-WR Kassim Osgood: UFA Jaguars; $6.675M/3 yrs, $2.975M guaranteed.
-RB LaDainian Tomlinson (released).
-*QB Charlie Whitehurst: RFA; (tendered at $1.176M with third-round pick as compensation); re-signed, traded to Seahawks.
-NT Jamal Williams (released).