NFL

Bolts pleased with 1st-round pick Liuget

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SAN DIEGO (AP)

The San Diego Chargers can ill afford another underachieving first-round draft selection.

''You draft those guys early because you're hoping they'll make an impact,'' said the team's director of player personnel, Jimmy Raye.

That said, the Chargers are pleased with first-round pick Corey Liuget, although the rookie defensive end chafed a week ago about not having a sack through 13 games.

''I'm definitely hungry for it,'' he said.

Sunday night in mop-up duty against Baltimore, Liuget finally downed a quarterback - Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor - in the last minute of San Diego's 20-point victory.

''He's going to get a lot more sacks, '' coach Norv Turner said. ''He's going to be an outstanding football player.''

The Chargers (7-7) are trying desperately to avoid missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Before that, they won four consecutive AFC West titles.

Team President Dean Spanos hasn't said whether general manager A.J. Smith and Turner will keep their jobs. Their job security might not be a topic if the team's three first-rounders from 2007-09 had become impact players.

Craig Davis, chosen 30th in 2007, never became a frontline receiver and was released in July. Larry English didn't emerge as the pass-rusher the Chargers envisioned when they took him 16th in 2009 and has suffered season-ending foot injuries the last two years. Cornerback Antoine Cason, drafted 27th in 2008, was benched two months ago after giving up three touchdowns in a loss to the New York Jets that began a six-game losing streak. Cason since has reclaimed a starting job, with mixed results.

Liuget (pronounced LEE-jit) can find inspiration from teammate Ryan Mathews, a fellow first-rounder.

Plagued by injuries and fumbles as a rookie, Mathews has blossomed this year to rush for 1,000 yards. Smith drafted the running back 12th in 2010 after trading up 16 spots for the pick.

''Just like Ryan Mathews' jump from year one to year two, I think Corey Liuget's jump from year one to year two is going to be really big,'' Raye said. ''I really think that's going to happen with Corey as he starts to see himself more as a playmaker than a role player.''

Liuget, selected 18th last April, entered the draft after his junior year at Illinois. The NFL lockout steepened his learning curve, as did missing the first week of training camp while his contract was being negotiated.

He since has discovered that making plays in the Big Ten as a tackle was far easier than defending two gaps as a 3-4 end in the NFL.

''In college, most of the teams you played against, you just went off raw talent,'' said Liuget, who had 12 1/2 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks as a junior. ''Here at this level, you've got to be a technician.''

Liuget has been in on 23 tackles, including five for a loss. He also has one forced fumble and one recovered fumble.

''I think I've had a pretty decent rookie year,'' he said. ''It wasn't as explosive as I wanted it to be, but now that I'm getting a better feel for it and a better groove for it, it's getting better.''

His 22nd birthday comes in March, making him the youngest of four NFL rookies who were drafted in the first round and now play end in a 3-4 defense. The sack leader of the group, with 4 1/2, is J.J. Watt, chosen 11th by the Texans.

But Cameron Jordan doesn't have a sack for the Saints, who took him 21st. Cameron Heyward, selected 31st, has one sack and eight tackles for the Steelers.

''Really, the stars of the (3-4) defense, so to speak, are your outside and inside linebackers,'' said Raye. ''Corey probably statistically hasn't had the greatest year, but from the point of view of him doing what he's asked to do, he's done a good job of that.''

Turner said Liuget is free to set sail for the quarterback on most third downs as a tackle in the team's nickel defense. On earlier downs, he often must defend two gaps, which sometimes means fending off two blockers who each weigh over 300 pounds.

''He's what you want in a No. 1 draft pick,'' Turner said, ''and he's made the kind of progress you'd hope he'd make.''

Tagged: Saints, Steelers, Ryan Mathews, Chargers, Corey Liuget

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