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Chargers : Lachey Is First Choice, Then 3 Defensive Backs

Times Staff Writer

It wasn’t a pretty draft. But then, the Chargers have been too pretty--and too soft--for too long.

The Chargers weren’t kidding themselves. They recognized their shortcomings and went straight at them.

By selecting an offensive lineman, three defensive backs and a kicking specialist with their first five choices in Tuesday’s National Football League draft, the Chargers moved to rectify some flaws, which were plain even to casual fans.

The names probably won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t spend half the year holed up with a projector and reels of college film. This was, after all, a meat-and-potatoes draft.

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But the Chargers were quick to name offensive lineman Jim Lachey of Ohio State on the first round, cornerback Wayne Davis of Indiana State and safety Jeffery Dale of Louisiana State on the second round, and cornerback John Hendy of Long Beach State on the third round.

The draft was not totally lacking in big names--or at least long names. On the fourth er/placekicker Ralf Mojsiejenko (pronounced Moes-YENK-oh) of Michigan State. Coach Don Coryell grinned when he tried to deliver that tongue-twister of a name.

Lachey (pronounced Luh-SHAY) had his problems with the language, too. Recounting a story of how he was recruited by Woody Hayes, Lachey described the weather that day.

“It was one of those tarantulas,” he said, undoubtedly meaning a torrential rainstorm.

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Lachey hails from the tiny Ohio town of St. Henry (population 1,800).

“Lots of farms, churches and bars,” he said, “and we took advantage of ‘em all.”

On to serious business. Ever since Dan Fouts established himself as one of football’s dominant quarterbacks in the late 1970s, the Charger opposition in the AFC West has been inclined to compensate by drafting pass rushers.

Time has verified the wisdom of that strategy, as well as working against the cast of blockers charged with safeguarding Fouts.

In recognition of these factors, the Chargers deliberated only a couple of minutes before selecting Lachey, a two-year starter at left guard for Ohio State, with their first pick.

The disabling injuries suffered by Fouts in 1983 and 1984--both of them losing seasons--were not totally attributable to the graying of the offensive line. However, the necessity of providing the soundest possible pocket for Fouts dictated the selection of an offensive lineman on the first round.

On the second round, when they had two shots, the Chargers addressed a familiar flaw, the secondary.

Davis, although small at 5-11, 175, is viewed as a possible starter in a defensive backfield which annually gives up more yardage than any other. Although the Chargers would have preferred San Diego State’s Tory Nixon, they seemed happy with Davis, who never missed a practice or a game in his college career.

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“One of our prime concerns was for a cover man so we can turn our linebackers loose to blitz,” said Coryell.

In Dale (6-3, 211), the Chargers went for a strong hitter with ability to cover tight ends, according to defensive coordinator Tom Bass.

Dale is also a possible starter. Coryell saw him at the Senior Bowl and said, “He could start for us right now.”

Hendy (6-0, 190) is given a good chance to make the team by defensive backfield coach Jim Wagstaff.

Since the secondary is probably weaker than the offensive line, Davis and Dale may have a better chance to start than Lachey.

That’s not to say the Chargers don’t have lofty expectations for Lachey, but they won’t hand him a varsity letter just for showing up at mini-camp.

“Taking a guy on the first round doesn’t mean he steps right in,” said line coach Dave Levy. “There are not too many guys like Anthony Munoz who go to the Pro Bowl as rookies.”

No, but this draft was rich in blocking studs.

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Lachey was the fifth offensive lineman taken among the top 12 in the first round. Selected ahead of him were Bill Fralic, Lomas Brown, Ken Ruettgers and Kevin Allen.

“If you looked at how all 28 teams rated this group, it would be different, but very close,” Levy said. “They’re almost like a matched set.”

Lachey is tall (6-6) and fast (5.0 in the 40), but the Chargers think he can add another 12 pounds of upper-body muscle, which would bring his weight to 290. He gained about 40 pounds in college, but doesn’t want to go beyond 290, fearing he would become “blimpy.”

“He’s not King Kong yet,” Levy said. “He still has some physical development ahead of him. But that doesn’t mean we plan to bring him along slowly. We’ll bring him along as quickly as he can be brought.”

Lachey said Ohio State’s run/pass ratio was 60-40, meaning he has some pass-blocking techniques to learn. He has worked in front of two outstanding runners, Tim Spencer, a USFL star whose rights the Chargers own, and Keith Byars.

Lachey represents the first offensive lineman taken on the first round by San Diego since Bob Rush in 1977.

Russ Washington was a defensive lineman when he was picked in 1968. Washington went on to become an all-pro at offensive tackle in a career that spanned 16 seasons.

If Lachey plays half as long or as well as Washington, chief scout Ron Nay will deserve plaudits for his first big call since taking over the scouting department.

To take Lachey, the Chargers passed up several highly regarded pass catchers, Eddie Brown and Jerry Rice, along with running back Ethan Horton.

There had been some speculation they might go for one of those players if they couldn’t get Brown or Ruettgers.

The decision to bolster the offensive line should not be viewed strictly as a response to the injuries suffered by Fouts in each of the past two seasons, according to Levy.

“This has nothing to do with Dan getting hurt, heavens no,” he said.

Instead, the move was dictated by the encroachment of time. Tackle Ed White and guard Doug Wilkerson are 38, while center Don Macek is 32. Another factor was a back injury suffered by Drew Gissinger, out for the 1985 season after getting hurt lifting weights.

Fouts went down last year on a blown pass assignment by a back, Levy said. There was not a significant falling off in his protection from the five men in the trenches, according to Levy.

“We threw 635 passes and had 36 sacks,” Levy said. “I didn’t notice a drastic change from recent years. We averaged about 32 sacks over the last several years, and that was the best protection rate in the league.”

While Lachey is not going to be automatically awarded a starting position, he is expected to challenge Sam Claphan at left tackle.

Lachey, who played guard in college, is being viewed primarily as a tackle by the Chargers, but his versatility is appealing.

Lachey’s presence will provide quality depth, if nothing else this year.

White remains the No. 1 man up front, having surrendered neither strength or quickness. Wilkerson may have lost a step, but is still a worthy performer, as is Macek.

Dennis McKnight is Wilkerson’s running mate and seems assured of keeping his starting role.

Thus the most vulnerable position is Claphan’s.

“We’ll just get all our guys together and see who’s best,” Levy said. “We’re not going to prejudge anyone.”

Chargers’ Draft Picks

Rd. Player College Pos. 1. Jim Lachey Ohio St. OG 2. Wayne Davis Indiana St. DB 2. Jeffery Dale LSU DB 3. John Hendy Long Beach St. DB 5. Ralf Mojsiejenko Michigan St. K-P 6. Terry Lewis Michigan St. DB 7. Mark Fellows Montana St. LB 8. Curtis Adams Central Michigan RB 9. Paul Berner Pacific QB 9. Dan Remsberg Abilene Christian OT 10. David King Auburn DB 11. Jeff Smith Kentucky NT


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