Trade works well as Chargers get Tomlinson, then Brees
Updated: Saturday April 21, 2001 6:54 PM
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The San Diego Chargers got a quarterback in the NFL draft after all.
The Chargers took Purdue's Drew Brees leading off the second round Saturday, 31 picks after the Atlanta Falcons took Michael Vick with the opening selection they obtained in a trade with San Diego on Friday.
Now the Chargers lead the NFL in something other than losses -- short quarterbacks. Starter Doug Flutie and former CFL star Dave Dickenson are 5-11, and Brees is listed at a fraction under 6-0.
"Right now we're glad to have all of them," coach Mike Riley said. "We've got winners at quarterback."
At the end of the season, the Chargers had Ryan Leaf at quarterback and a 1-15 record. Leaf was waived in March and claimed by Tampa Bay.
Flutie will start, Riley said, while Brees and Dickenson will battle for the backup job. The Chargers also re-signed Moses Moreno last week.
The Chargers moved to fix their long-running embarrassment at running back, taking TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson with the fifth overall pick, one of the selections they got from Atlanta.
"We passed up a great guy to look more immediate," Riley said about giving up Vick.
Tomlinson was told to come in and get ready to play. The Chargers can use him after gaining only 1,062 rushing yards last year, worst in the league.
"Drew may not be what you would say is immediate, but he might be the immediate backup, and he's definitely ahead in being able to take a team from the huddle to the line of scrimmage and play the game," Riley said.
"Cool Brees," as he was nicknamed at Purdue, was the second-rated quarterback in the draft behind Vick. He was projected as a late first-round pick, and even he thought he might go anywhere from No. 11-18. But he said he wanted to play for the Chargers ever since they worked him out six weeks ago.
"I wanted to be with a team that I could have a chance to challenge for a spot," Brees said. "I thought it was a good fit for me. It's all coming through."
Brees was rapped for his size, relative lack of arm strength and because he played in an offense built for him.
But Riley pointed out that he took Purdue to the Rose Bowl and threw 1,678 passes in four seasons, more than four times as many as Vick threw in two seasons at Virginia Tech.
While Flutie starts, Brees will be tutored by Riley and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
"If I'm not getting drafted in the first round but I'm landing on the right team, like I feel San Diego is the right team, that's all that matters," Brees said. "So I'm very happy right now."
Tomlinson was an All-American who led Division I-A in rushing the last two seasons.
"I was hoping this deal worked out," Tomlinson said. "I'm really excited about getting the chance to play in the fine city of San Diego and trying to help this team win again."
Tomlinson appears to be a fit in more ways than one. He's used to massive rebuilding jobs, having suffered through a 1-10 freshman season.
"I know how to rebuild a team," Tomlinson said. "I know how to step in and work hard. I knew what it took to rebuild TCU's program. That's kind of the same situation here. I'm pretty sure the guys are working hard and obviously they're going to be ready to go."
San Diego's running game has been atrocious the last several seasons.
They haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Natrone Means set the franchise record with 1,350 yards in their Super Bowl season of 1994. Gary Brown came close with 945 yards in 1997, but the Chargers have run through several featured backs since Means' big year.
Riley said there were many questions about Tomlinson. He's only 5-10, 221 pounds and TCU plays in the Western Athletic Conference and runs the option.
But Tomlinson was impressive in workouts and the Senior Bowl, when he ran for 88 yards and a touchdown to win MVP honors.
"From the minute we made the trade, and even before that, we talked about a way, some way, if we can get LaDainian," Riley said.
Still, questions remain on the caliber of line Tomlinson will run behind. The Chargers also coveted 370-pound Texas tackle Leonard Davis, but he went to Arizona with the second pick.
Tomlinson has an impressive resume. His 5,263 career yards rank eighth all-time in NCAA Division I-A. As a senior he ran for 2,158 yards, fourth all-time on the single-season list, and 22 touchdowns. As a junior, he set the single-game record with 406 yards against Texas-El Paso.
He averaged nearly 29 carries a game his final two seasons.
Tomlinson played down the rap that he played against subpar competition.
"I played the teams that were on my schedule," he said. "I went to the Senior Bowl and I played against the best people and did a great job. I'm not too much worrying about the people I play."