The potential for Chris Watt as a starter

When the San Diego Chargers selected offensive lineman Chris Watt in the third round of this year’s draft, head coach Mike McCoy did not anoint him as a starter to open the regular season.

“We’re not going to hand anyone a job,” McCoy said, when asked about the potential for a player from this year’s draft class to earn a starting job. “As you saw last year, we’re going to play the best 11 on the field at all times. So it’s an opportunity for everyone to come in and show what they can do. And we’ll give them every chance through the OTAs [organized team activities], minicamps and training camps. And we’ll pick the best 53 for the team, and the best 11 will be on the field at all times.”

McCoy is keeping his options open for good reason. The Chargers return all five starters from an offensive line that performed well last season. San Diego has decent depth up front. Center Nick Hardwick is back starting at center, paired with Chad Rinehart at left guard and Jeromey Clary at right guard.

The Chargers have players with game experience behind that group in Rich Ohrnberger and Johnnie Troutman. Both players can play all three interior line positions.

However, with Hardwick, Rinehart, Clary and Ohrnberger all in the final year of their contracts, general manager Tom Telesco needed to bring in a prospect to develop in case one of those players does not return in free agency. And Watt serves that purpose.

A three-year starter at left guard in college, Watt played right guard his freshman year and also worked at center during practice for the Fighting Irish. Watt said he’s been working on snapping during the offseason, and Telesco did not rule out the possibility of the Notre Dame product playing that position for the Chargers.

“He certainly has all of the intangibles, the smarts and the initial quickness to do it,” Telesco said. “But we’ll see.”

Watt said that Chargers offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris met with him before his pro day. Watt also met with representatives of the Chargers at the NFL scouting combine. Watt said he’s been told he’ll work at center and guard.

“We did a lot of zone stuff at Notre Dame,” Watt said, when asked about his familiarity with San Diego’s offensive line scheme. “So that was one of the biggest things. We ran a lot of inside zone, so we’ll see how it goes here. I feel like I’m very versatile in what I can do from an offensive line position, so I am looking forward to just contributing any way that I can.”

At 6-3 and 310 pounds, Watt is known as a good run blocker. In 12 of his 27 career starts, the Fighting Irish ran for at least 200 yards on the ground. Watt suffered a sprained knee and did not play in Notre Dame’s bowl game last season, but he’s expected to be healthy for San Diego’s offseason program.

“Simply put, the man he’s supposed to block, he gets,” Telesco said, when asked to describe Watt as a player. “He’s got really good quickness in the run game, both front side and back side. He can pass protect.”

A quick look at the recent draft history of guards selected in the third round shows the potential for Watt to start some games in his rookie season.

Of the 13 offensive guards drafted in the third round since 2010, six of those players started at least nine games in their rookie seasons.

The most obvious success story from the 2013 draft is Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford. Selected No. 65 overall out of Kentucky, Warford started all 16 games at right guard, and was selected offensive rookie of the year by Pro Football Focus. Warford played every offensive snap for the Lions and did not allow a sack.

However, Watt’s career arc more likely will follow Houston Texans 2012 third round selection Brandon Brooks. Selected No. 76 overall out of Miami of Ohio, Brooks sat and learned behind veteran Mike Brisiel before earning the starting right guard job the following season, starting 15 games in 2013.