Monday, May 4, 2009 | On Philip Rivers’ first day mandated back to work for mini-camp Friday at Chargers Park, the quarterback mentioned he spent more time following this year’s NFL Draft than the past.

The irony of his statement, though, is he wasn’t watching the draft with stressed concern. He wasn’t fretting that the Chargers needed to make a bold move to bolster their talent on the 2009 roster for a run at the Super Bowl.

He was casually watching as he made his way in and out of the house on draft day while running errands.

“We weren’t one of the teams getting all the attention,” Rivers said. “We weren’t one of the teams that needs a lot and were making headlines on

(ESPN’s) SportsCenter. We’ve got an established team here. We don’t need a lot of additions from the draft or offseason moves. We feel we’ve got a lot of guys already in the locker room before the draft.”

But imagine if the Chargers hadn’t come to an agreement with running LaDainian Tomlinson, re-working his contract so the 5-foot-10, 221-pounder would return in 2009.

By the time the Chargers drafted in the first round with the 16th pick, Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno was the only running back taken, having gone to the Denver Broncos.

If the Chargers didn’t have LT coming back, the ongoing debate would be should the Chargers have used their pick on Connecticut running back Donald Brown, taken 27th by the Indianapolis Colts, or Ohio State running back Chris Wells, chosen 31st by the Arizona Cardinals.

Or, for that matter, either one of them since they were the only backs NFL scouts deemed worthy of a first-round pick.

Instead, the Chargers enter 2009 with a better mix of running backs than they’ve had in the recent past. They have a future Hall-of-Famer in Tomlinson, elusive Darren Sproles (5-6, 181), versatile Jacob Hester (5-11, 225) and fourth-round draft pick Gartrell Johnson (5-11, 218).

The Chargers once had a Pro Bowl fullback in Lorenzo Neal, but he was a blocking back. Hester and Johnson can make big plays running the ball or catching it out of the backfield. That, hopefully, will take the pounding and wear and tear off the shoulders of LT.

Tomlinson can now finish his career (it says here) with the kind productive finish that Walter Payton enjoyed with the Chicago Bears — especially if the Chargers start using him in space and catching the ball out of the backfield more than they have in the last couple of seasons.

On the other side of the ball, imagine, if for whatever reason, things had turned sour around Shawne Merriman. Speculation that this might be Pro Bowl outside linebacker final year in San Diego because of anticipated contract demands after the 2009 season could have heated up as a result of the Bolts using their first-round draft pick on Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English.

What if things were said or misinterpreted by Merriman or Chargers’ brass as it was explained English was being converted to Merriman’s position, outside linebacker?

After all, that’s how erstwhile Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler ended up with the Chicago Bears in a sudden offseason trade. And, closer to home, that’s why Padres’ future Hall-of-Fame closer Trevor Hoffman is now pitching in for the Milwaukee Brewers.

“It was a little confusing at first, because I don’t think anybody saw it coming,” Merriman said of drafting English. “But I’ve watched a lot of tape of Larry and seen the things he does well. Hopefully he can provide us with some early help and bring some fire.”

Merriman said he likes what he’s seen of English as a teammate, too.

We’re not talking about a Terrell Owens-type personality in the mix when we’re talking about Merriman or English working side by side.

“He’s a real respectful guy,” Merriman said. “I can see he has a high motor. He’s a kid that wants to come in and work. Anytime you got a guy that come in and work you, you can appreciate what’s going to come after that.”

Merriman also dismissed questions about future contract demands as he continues his rehab from reconstructive knee surgery that he underwent following last year’s season opener.

“All those questions are for the future,” he said. “The only concern for me is getting back to playing football and get the uniform back on my body,” he said. “I’ve been playing football since I was 11, so I’m anxious to get back on the field again, and everything I’ve been working on will show.”

Desperate teams make bold moves on draft day and keep their players riveted to the couch and TV.

The Chargers were one of those teams in 2004 when they drafted Eli Manning and then sent him to the New York Giants in a blockbuster deal that ultimately brought in three future Pro Bowlers and a Super Bowl veteran.

Rivers swapped places with Manning; kicker Nate Kaeding was taken with the Giants’ third-round pick in 2004; Merriman was chosen with the Giants’ first-round pick in 2005; and Roman Oben, acquired from the Tampa Bay Bucs with a late-round pick acquired in the Manning-Rivers trade, was a starter on the 2004 and 2005 teams.

The Chargers may have come up short of the Super Bowl while making the playoffs four of the last five years, but that’s a better identity than entering the 2009 draft or season as a desperate team.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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