Entering his fourth season as general manager for the Chargers, Tom Telesco had a number of needs on both sides of the ball heading into the NFL Draft. Questions along the offensive and defensive line, tight end, linebacker, cornerback and safety were positions the team wanted to upgrade. Recently Telesco sat down with Military Press reporter Art Garcia Jr. to discuss the veteran free agents he signed over the off-season and a quick recap of his rookie draft class.
AG: Aside from keeping your own free agents in house, tell me about a few of the veterans you signed off the free agent market?
TT: We were trying to address the offense, defense and special teams and try to fill some areas of need before the draft. So we sign Travis Benjamin, which gives us a little bit more speed at receiver and really helps on special teams too — he was like a dual signing for us in that he can help us in more than just one way. He had a really nice start to his career in Cleveland as a receiver. He’s a good route runner and he’s not just a speed guy. He runs really good routes, he’s tough and he can catch the ball — that was important to us.
Both Casey Hayward (Packers) and Brandon Mebane (Packers) were really productive players from the winning programs they came from. With Casey we were lucky to get him because he is a quality corner in this league. You need to have three starters nowadays because everybody throws the ball so much, so we get him in here and he’s really smart, instinctive, and he has good size — he’s just under 6-feet, 194-pounds.
Brandon has been a really good nose tackle in this league for a long time and he’s going to help out everybody around him to. At that position, sometimes the longer you play it the better you get (because) there’s a lot of technique involved in playing nose tackle.
Dwight Lowery gives us a nice veteran presence in the secondary. In college and in the NFL he’s always been around the ball. He has a lot of career interceptions (16), he has a nose for the football, he plays smart and he has good size.
AG: As far as signing Matt Slauson, was it more important for you to get a veteran center to line up in front of Philip Rivers as opposed to going with either Chris Watt, Trevor Robinson or a rookie in Max Tuerk?
TT: Not necessarily. You just can’t, draft wise, get everything you need. So we were active but it didn’t work out that way. Once the draft was over and Matt was released we signed him. Matt’s a durable, consistent football player who can play center and guard and right now at center we have some guys he’ll compete with — the job is wide open.
AG: You had a lot of injuries your first year here but the last two years the amount of injuries, especially along the offensive line, has been ridiculous. Have you ever seen anything like it in your 22 years in the NFL?
TT: Oh probably — you tend to focus on it more when you guys all cover the Chargers every day so it gets focused on a little more but there’s always injuries. We’ve had more at one position than other positions but the results last year on the offensive line, we had a lot of injuries but pass protection wise we were better than people think. Philip was sacked less than half the average across the league so pass protection wise we did a pretty good job with a lot of different players. The run game part of it wasn’t nearly good enough and that’s what we’re trying to focus on this offseason, trying to improve that.
AG: I want to go through your draft picks and give me a quick synopsis — Joey Bosa?
TT: He’s an excellent football player who plays a position we could really use some help at. He can rush the passer and play the run. I’m not worried about where we play him but there will be a transition period for him no doubt. Even though he’s coming from a big school and he’s a good player there’s a transition period in this league — these are men he’s playing against every week but I have no reservations where we play him.
AG: And the tight end you took in the second round, Hunter Henry?
TT: He’s a true junior because he didn’t redshirt so he was there for three years, but he’s probably more mature beyond his years. He’s very smart, he’s polished, he’s an excellent athlete and was one of the top tight end recruits coming out of high school. He has a great feel for the passing game, has great hands and he’s a pretty competitive blocker. He’s going to get stronger at it (blocking) too and we need that help, that’s part of the running game — getting dirty in the running game too.
AG: What about Max Tuerk, the huge 6’5 center you took in the third round out of USC?
TT: He’ really athletic, that’s what jumps out when you watch him live or on tape… his feet and athletic ability are excellent. He’s tough, he’s smart and we have some high hopes for him. I think he would have been drafted higher if he hadn’t hurt his knee in college.
AG: In the fourth round you selected another Ohio State Buckeye, linebacker Joshua Perry, what was it about him that caught your eye?
TT: He’s a bigger linebacker because he’s 6-4, 250 but he runs really well — he ran like a 4.60 or a 4.65 (40-yard dash). He’s smart, instinctive and an excellent tackler — he very rarely misses a tackle. In pass coverage he’s so tall, has long arms and runs well so on tight end routes deep down the field he can run with them pretty well and use his length to make it tough to throw over the top of him.
AG: A lot of people really liked your fifth-round pick, linebacker Jatavis Brown out of Akron — why?
TT: Jatavis was a highly productive player in that conference (MAC), probably the best defensive player in that conference the past couple of years. He’s another player with athletic ability, speed and explosion. They rushed him a little on the outside, but he played inside linebacker and he can really move. He’s as fast or faster than many safeties in this league.
AG: Your sixth-round pick was the top-ranked punter in the draft, tell me about him?
TT: Drew Kaser was one of the better punters we’ve seen over the past few years coming out, he not only has a really strong leg but he’s consistent with it. He’ll come in and compete with Kasey Redfern who was on our practice squad the last couple of weeks last season. Kasey showed us a lot and it will be great competition between the two.
AG: So you take Derek Watt, Melvin Gordon’s fullback at Wisconsin in round six, thoughts about him?
TT: We’ll see if he can carve out a roll for us at fullback/special teamer. He had a nice career at Wisconsin and had a really good Holiday Bowl when they played here, so we’ll see how he does. The thing with the fullbacks is that you have to have some other role because some games you may only play four or five snaps and other games maybe a little more or less so you need to contribute on special teams.
AG: Tell me about your last pick — offensive guard Donavon Clark out of Michigan State?
TT: He’s played guard, he’s played tackle, he’s big and physical — another Big 10 offensive lineman. There are plenty of seventh rounders’ who have made an NFL roster.
The Endzone: When asked why Lowery has bounced around the league so much if he’s as good as they say, Telesco replied, “Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. The last two years he has played under a one-year contract. He had a really good year in Atlanta (two years ago) and then he had a good year with Indy last year and then he became a free agent where we signed him. Sometimes it’s a situation of right place, right time — I know we’re happy we signed him.”