Chargers hope Starks will keep Rivers upright

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- He stood tall behind the podium, which, the San Diego Chargers hope, will enable quarterback Philip Rivers to do likewise in the pocket.
Max Starks looked the part after an organized team activity session at Chargers Park. After searching all offseason, the Chargers finally have their man.
Starks, a free-agent offensive tackle from Pittsburgh with 96 career starts, filled the biggest void on a team that had more than its share. When Jared Gaither was released this offseason, the Chargers looked to the draft and free agency to protect Rivers' blindside.
But an early run on tackles erased the draft as an option, and the open market didn't produce anything, other than backup King Dunlap.
Until Starks, who started all 16 games last year, signed on, and, oh happy day.
Rivers was sacked 49 times last season, the second most in the league. With a skill set built on having solid footing to throw from inside a pristine pocket, Rivers' game had fallen off dramatically with the Chargers' leaky protection.
Starks can't fix all that. There are new starters at every position other than center, meaning Rivers will still have to buckle his chin strap.
But last year left tackle was occupied by a series of undrafted free agents and journeyman backups. The Chargers are banking on Starks, 31, to provide an equal dose of veteran knowledge and production.
The Chargers still need to address the position on a long-term basis. But for next season, with so many other younger players being counted on, it'll be an experienced shoulder in Starks that the Chargers can lean on.
And they are counting on Starks standing upright all season, just like he was this week. Even if he was running with the second unit, which is fine with him. Starks isn't one to embrace being anointed.
"It's a process," Starks said. "I don't want anything given to me, and I like the fact it's open competition because you want the best five out there that have the best chemistry on the field."
When Starks was signed, Kevin Haslam was released. He started three games last year. Michael Harris, another part-time starter last year, will now likely serve as the key backup at both tackle spots.
The Chargers were put on the spot this offseason when the new regime of general manager Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy inherited the dicey situation with Gaither. When they couldn't determine Gaither's dedication to the game, they cut their losses and moved on, peeking toward the draft and free agency for Plan B.
The plan became Starks, which the Chargers hope will lead to an improved pocket for Rivers.
--Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney hasn't participated in an OTA practice since joining the team, but the Chargers don't seem concerned. Team officials said Freeney, who came over from Indianapolis and is slated to be the team's key pass-rusher, had personal commitments. He could hit the field on Wednesday. . . . Tackle D.J. Fluker, the team's top pick, remains unsigned. He is the only Chargers pick not under contract. But Fluker hasn't missed an OTA practice and seems poised to have his contract done before training camp. Fluker is running with the first team and is a projected starter on the right side.

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