Just when the Chargers were getting used to embracing Billy Joe Tolliver as the team’s quarterback of the future, another fresh, young arm has come to town.
Welcome John Friesz of Idaho, the sixth-round choice the Chargers are calling their “steal” of the 1990 NFL draft. Suddenly the competition at quarterback has another dimension.
“If he comes in and is as quick a study as Billy was, he will get right into the picture,” Coach Dan Henning said. “It could get us down to a situation where a veteran remains or he takes that spot.”
Consider that a warning shot fired across the bow of at least two returning quarterbacks--seven-year veteran David Archer and fourth-year player Mark Vlasic, who is coming back after missing last season with knee surgery.
But on this Monday afternoon, when the Chargers were cooing over their mid-round find of Friesz and evaluating the rest of their 17 draft selections, Henning’s motivational words were not reserved for just Archer and Vlasic. He found a way to use the occasion of Friesz’s arrival at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium to send a message to Jim McMahon as well.
In discussing training camp practice plans, Henning sounded prepared to go along this summer without McMahon, whose contract has expired and is looking for a raise from his 1989 base salary of $800,000.
“Most of the work will be given to Billy and whichever veteran is best capable,” Henning said. “That will be Jim McMahon, if he we get him signed; if not, Archer and Vlasic will compete there. And if Friesz shows something, he will get into that mix.”
The Chargers are expecting he will. They rated Friesz the best quarterback in the draft outside of Jeff George of Illinois, who was taken by Indianapolis with the first pick. And in their minds, he might be better than George.
The Chargers did not fully evaluate George because they knew he would be gone before they picked, General Manager Bobby Beathard said. But from what they saw, they were not necessarily convinced they would not have rated Friesz just as high anyway.
“There were some things about George we didn’t like,” Beathard said.
No wonder why the Chargers were so excited to see Friesz still available when the first five rounds ended. They traded with Dallas just before the draft recessed Sunday, picking up three sixth-round choices this year, including the opening pick in the round, so they could select Friesz.
“We were not necessarily aiming at that position,” Henning said. “But as time went on we felt like it was a steal to take him.”
To listen to the team and player, it was hard to tell who was more relieved: the Chargers for finding Friesz available or Friesz for finally being selected after what had been a frustrating day.
“I heard I was high on a lot of draft boards and when I didn’t go until the sixth round, it confused me,” Friesz said. “It got to the point I didn’t know what the rumor was about me or if there was one.
“Several other teams said that they would take me with their second pick, but they didn’t think I would still be there. After they didn’t pick me on their fifth pick, I got a little confused. Tampa Bay and Seattle called to ask if I was injured or if there was some other problem they didn’t know about. I told them, ‘Nothing new with me; I’m just waiting.’ ”
The Chargers were waiting, too, hoping Friesz would fall far enough so that they could draft him. With no choices in the fourth or fifth rounds, they had to sit and hope teams would keep passing him by.
Nine quarterbacks went before Friesz, including Craig Kupp of Pacific Lutheran--who Beathard said he had never even heard of--to the New York Giants with the 26 of 28 picks in the fifth round. Three picks and nearly 23 hours later, the Chargers took Friesz. Luckily for Friesz, he did not have to wait for the draft to resume Monday to learn his fate.
Beathard called Sunday night after trading a 1991 third-round pick to Dallas to tell him of his next-day plan.
“That really helped me out because I was so depressed,” Friesz said.
By dropping to the sixth round, Friesz cost himself a lot of money. George agreed to a six-year, $15-million contract with the Colts Friday. About the only similarity between George’s contract and the more modest one Friesz will receive is that they will be negotiated by the same agent--Leigh Steinberg.
“I’m not the kind of guy even if I was taken in the first round to hold out,” Friesz said. “I’ll be here from the (start), I have a lot to learn.”
Friesz was one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football history, throwing for 10,697 career yards, including 4,041 as a senior, the sixth best season total ever. But some scouts knocked him for a lack of mobility and playing at an NCAA Division I-AA school, where the competition was not top-flight.
But Beathard took a personal interest in Friesz, even taking in one of his games last fall. He particularly likes Friesz’s size (6-feet-4), smarts and arm strength.
“I haven’t asked other teams how they had him rated, but we think he is a steal,” Beathard said. “Either we’re right or the other teams are right. I don’t know, but we’ll find out.”
On the second day of the draft, the Chargers tried to address their needs at offensive line and cornerback, using seven of their 13 picks in the final seven rounds at those positions. “We did as well as we could in the late rounds at offensive line,” General Manager Bobby Beathard said. “We got big kids; we got smart kids. Now it is up to (offensive line coach) Alex Gibbs to make them into front line NFL linemen.” . . . No Beathard draft would be complete without a sleeper. This year’s was seventh-round pick Nate Lewis, a wide receiver from Oregon Tech, an NAIA Division II school in Klamath Falls, Ore. Lewis, who played seven games as a senior after transfering from Georgia because of academic troubles, is the second player from Oregon Tech to be drafted. The other was linebacker Joe Kain of Seattle. Lewis also provided one of the funniest moments of the draft when he was asked over a speaker phone if he knew who Billy Joe Tolliver was. Lewis said he didn’t. The only problem was Tolliver, the Chargers’ starting quarterback, was in the room and heard him. . . . The 17 selections by the Chargers were their most since taking 17 players in the ill-fated draft of 1986 from which only first-pick Leslie O’Neal remains.
THE CHARGER DRAFT
Rd. No. Name School Pos. Hgt. Wgt. 1 5 Junior Seau USC LB 6-2 243 3A 57 Jeff Mills Nebraska LB 6-3 227 3B 60 Leo Goeas Hawaii OT 6-3 1/2 278 3C 67 Walter Wilson East Carolina WR 5-10 181 6A 138 John Friesz Idaho QB 6-4 209 6B 143 Frank Cornish UCLA OL 6-4 281 6C 145 David Pool Carson-Newman CB 5-9 188 6D 163 Derrick Walker Michigan TE 6-0 1/2 244 7A 172 Jeff Novak SW Texas St. OL 6-5 279 7B 185 Joe Staysniak Ohio St. OT 6-4 1/2 293 7C 187 Nate Lewis Oregon Tech WR 5-11 197 7D 193 Keith Collins Appalachian St. CB 5-11 183 8 201 J.J. Flannigan Colorado RB 5-10 194 9 227 Chris Goetz Pittsburgh OG 6-2 272 10 256 Ken Berry Miami CB 6-2 185 11 283 Tommie Stowers Missouri TE 6-3 225 12 326 Elliott Searcy Southern WR 5-7 173
Name: Comment Junior Seau: Chargers still gloating over their good luck in landing top ILB prospect. Jeff Mills: Beathard calls him better than Broderick Thomas, a No. 1 pick at Nebraska last year. Leo Goeas: First of five offensive lineman taken by Chargers; will be tried at tackle first. Walter Wilson: Confident type who sounds ready to step in and compete for playing time. John Friesz: Tall, strong-armed quarterback who Chargers had rated as best available in draft. Frank Cornish: Will be tried at center and guard; team wants him to build his strength. David Pool: Transfer from Tennessee for personal reasons; fast but needs work at playing position. Derrick Walker: Reconstructive knee surgery as freshman or might have gone higher; could be H-back. Jeff Novak: Father, Jack, played for Green Bay and Washington; will be tried at guard. Joe Staysniak: Four-year starter; waited out draft at home watching copy of “The Godfather.” Nate Lewis: Transfer from Georgia with academic trouble; limited to 7 games by hamstring injury. Keith Collins: Southern Conference 100-meter champ, best of 10.71; will be tried on kickoff returns. J.J. Flannigan: Beathard likes his potential as kick returner but concerned about pass catching skills. Chris Goetz: College roommate of 1989 Charger No. 1 pick Burt Grossman; big, tough, smart. Ken Berry: Not considered fast for a cornerback; had four intercepts in ’89. Tommie Stowers: Fullback who will be tried at H-back; had 28 catches as senior. Elliott Searcy: Avg. 21 yards on 33 receptions with 8 TDs in ’89; will be tried as punt returner.