Orlando Franklin changes Chargers OL

Plunging a reported $20 million guaranteed into guard-tackle Orlando Franklin, a physical, durable blocker with some stiffness to his movements, the Chargers strengthened themselves at guard, while also gaining an option at right tackle.

The Chargers know a lot about Franklin, 27. As a Broncos starter he went against them in nine games, at left guard and right tackle, and played two seasons under Mike McCoy after arriving a second-round draftee from Miami.

The Broncos may or may not have bid to retain Franklin in recent weeks. Though he missed only one start in Denver's run to four AFC West titles, new coach Gary Kubiak likes stretch run plays, and Franklin, 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds and not suited to scampering, profiles better in a more straight-forward scheme. His performance last season at left guard, where he'd last played in 2009, drew a scathing review from ex-Broncos guard Mark Schlereth.

It'll be interesting to see where he lines up, guard or right tackle, the latter of which would move D.J. Fluker inside and counter left tackle King Dunlap's stated belief that tackle best suits Fluker.

Fluker, for his part, said in December he'll play wherever he's told to play but also said tackle fits him.

Franklin held Denver's right tackle job for three years, middle of which, no doubt with assists from quarterback Peyton Manning, he led all NFL right tackles in fewest sacks allowed.

But after he struggled against Seahawks edge rushers in the Super Bowl 14 months ago and linemate Zane Beadle signed with the Jaguars, the Broncos moved him to left guard, where he remained for Denver's 17 games last year.

The move backfired badly in Schlereth's estimation.

"The Denver left guard position -- footwork, hand placement, leverage pad-level -- is beyond horrible," said Schlereth, an ESPN analyst, during Week 11 last season. The ex-lineman added, "I thought it was a good decision to move Franklin inside, but I was wrong and they were wrong."

Fluker has acknowledged wanting to come to training camp lighter than last summer.

Franklin could be a prod to the long-armed, heavy-footed Fluker, who turns 24 next week, to be as nimble as possible.

A fit Fluker seems capable of dueling Franklin, should the Chargers opt to create a competition. Franklin will start somewhere of course, but as an emergency tackle would be a far more accomplished stand-in than Willie Smith, who upon replacing a hobbled Fluker in Game 16 last year gave up two quick sacks to Chiefs star Justin Houston.

At guard, Franklin should be an upgrade from either Chad Rinehart or Johnnie Troutman.

The caveat is, predicting how a veteran blocker's body will age is an inexact science, as the Chargers rediscovered with Rinehart, who as a 29-year-old regressed last season mere months after General Manager Tom Telesco invested a two-year, $5.1 million contract that guaranteed $2 million.

Rinehart started 13 games at guard for the 2013 Chargers, a playoff team, after following line coach Joe D'Alessandris over from Buffalo.

Brightening the outlook for 2014, the foot ailment that cost him four games in '13 didn't require surgery, leading to a full offseason to train.

Numerous defenders nevertheless beat Rinehart on run and pass plays last season. No doubt the loss of four centers to injury made the left guard's job more difficult, but Rinehart moved more stiffly than in 2013, was slower to recover when knocked off balance and seemed to have less life in his body.

Franklin, meantime, was more powerful and agile than Rinehart. He is a better athlete who even played left tackle for part of his college career.

Too, the long-armed, big-handed Franklin is a nasty performer whose physical style matches Nick Hardwick's call for the Chargers to acquire "bad dudes."

As with all Broncos and Chargers blockers, he benefited from a quick-pass system and a quarterback adept at setting pass protection and directing a no-huddle scheme.

The great unknown is how much life he still has in his body, after working 51 games for Miami and 70 for the Broncos.

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