It looks like the San Diego Chargers‘ second year General Manager, Tom Telesco, is following in his former mentor’s footsteps. Telesco worked his way up from an area scout to Vice President of Football Operations while with the Indianapolis Colts from 1998-2012. During that time, Telesco had the privilege of working alongside and learning from the great Bill Polian. While President of Football Operations, Polian helped build a Colts team that made the playoffs 11 times and won Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears during his tenure from 1997-2011 with the organization. Polian used the draft and signing underrated free agents to build a perennial playoff team every year.
Telesco showed his patience and calm demeanor during last year’s NFL Draft as the Chargers had arguably the best first three picks of any team in the league. In the first three rounds Telesco, and head coach Mike McCoy, selected offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, linebacker Manti Te’o and wide receiver Keenan Allen respectively. Fluker was a monster and showed his versatility playing different positions throughout the year. Te’o was hurt part of the season, but showed flashes of what he can bring to the Chargers’ defense. Allen played at a Pro Bowl level and looks to be one of the best young receivers in the league.
It’s still left to be seen how the Chargers’ other three draft picks from a year ago turn out. Cornerback Steve Williams missed the whole year with a pectoral tear, but has a great shot to compete for a starting position this year. linebacker Tourek Williams played sparingly over 13 games, but recorded 10 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble last year. Brad Sorensen didn’t see the field as the third string quarterback during the season and he looks slated as the third stringer again this year.
Free agency is where Polian really made is mark. He signed several underrated players who had a big part in their nine straight, 10-plus win seasons. Center Jeff Saturday, linebacker Gary Brackett and running back Dominic Rhodes were three un-drafted free agents, along with underrated wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who played prominent roles in both the Colts’ regular season dominance and Super Bowl victory. Finding these diamonds in the rough can pay dividends for any team. What Polian always emphasized was to “sign your own.” He always kept the core of the Colts’ team together and that was one of the biggest reasons for their success.
Telesco made similar moves last year. Putting together a patch-worked offensive line that helped Philip Rivers regain his Pro Bowl form along with another free agent, versatile running back Danny Woodhead. On the defensive side of the ball, Telesco’s moves to sign cornerback Richard Marshall, linebacker’s Thomas Keiser and Reggie Walker and trade for defensive end Sean Lissemore (7th round pick to Dallas Cowboys) helped the Chargers’ bend-but-don’t-break defense rank 11th in scoring defense. Telesco also signed un-drafted free agent safety Jahleel Addae, who had a solid year and ended up starting the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Denver Broncos.
Telesco did have one big miscue a year ago in cornerback Derek Cox, but he looks to have continued where he left off from last offseason. Telesco already added a few underrated free agents this year in linebacker Kavell Conner, defensive end Cordarro Law, cornerback Brandon Ghee and tight end David Johnson. How they will perform is up in the air, but if last year’s free agents are any indication, they should provide significant depth and impact. He also followed the advice of his former mentor and re-signed several players including special teams captain Darrell Stuckey, linebacker Donald Butler and offensive lineman Jeromey Clay to name a few.
Telesco has taken a page out of Polian’s book with a very successful first year and looks to build on that this year. The NFL Draft is about a week away and Telesco has to have another good draft to keep re-building the Chargers’ young roster. Look for Telesco to address the defensive line, secondary, linebackers, receiving corps and offensive line. All eyes will be on how Telesco and McCoy to fill out the rest of the big holes on San Diego’s roster through the draft.