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2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC West: San Diego Chargers - 3rd

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 17, 2013

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC West: San Diego Chargers - 3rd

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

Philip Rivers has been the face of the Chargers passing game for years, having started every game for them over the last seven seasons. In the eyes of football fans, 31 year-old Rivers is no longer the elite quarterback he once was. He has thrown 35 interceptions over the past two years and 2012 was probably his least effective year overall as a full-time starter, finishing with a mediocre average yards per pass. There is, however, an argument to be made that the results were largely a product of the offensive line's utter failure to pass protect, as well as the poor level of talent at wide receiver. Rivers still displayed his great accuracy and efficiency, completing over 64% of his passes and limiting his interceptions to 15 in 2012. He clearly does lack athleticism and an elite downfield arm, but at 6'5” and with an excellent grasp and understanding of the passing game, he has the ability to resume his elite quarterbacking career.

Behind Rivers, Charlie Whitehurst is expected to, once again, be a backup. If that remains the case, and somehow Rivers has to miss time, the offense would be in trouble. Whitehurst has the size, arm and even some surprising athleticism. But his accuracy is extremely spotty and he struggles to move the chains. The high upside player here is Southern Utah rookie Brad Sorensen, a 6'4” 230-pound talent that undoubtedly should've been drafted before the seventh round. Possessing a good arm, he is an accurate and very efficient passer.

 

Running Back:

The Chargers had one of the worst rushing offenses in football last year. Ryan Mathews, who missed time with a broken collarbone, led the team with a mere 707 yards. Ronnie Brown was the lone rusher that averaged more than four yards per carry. Mathews and Brown, nonetheless, are still talented backs who now return behind what should be an improved offensive line. Both backs possess the speed to break open big players as well as the size and power to create their own yardage between the tackles.

Added to the mix this offseason was the dynamic and talented Danny Woodhead. Stacked with skilled pass catchers, expect a resurgence in the team's backfield production.

 

Wide Receiver:

One of the least talented wide receiver groups, the Chargers continue to struggle to build a unit worthy of working with one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The lead guy should once again be 6'5” Malcom Floyd, a big, long and sure-handed target capable of stretching the field. But, as in 2012, behind Floyd lies a whirlwind of uncertainty.

Danario Alexander was a surprisingly productive deep threat last year and was expected to be the second receiver here until he tore his ACL in camp. Eddie Royal is a quick and smallish underneath receiver who excels mostly as a return man. 5'11” Vincent Brown returns after missing all of 2012 due to injury. Brown is a polished route runner who flashed vertical ability in his rookie year. Physical, polished 6'3” 214-pound rookie Keenan Allen can do some good as a short and intermediate complimentary target.

 

Tight End:

Unfortunately, Antonio Gates didn't escape the plague that hit the Chargers offense. On a positive note, Gates stayed relatively healthy, starting 15 games in 2012. Now at 33 years old, Gates has rededicated himself to reshaping his body and has apparently appeared more spry than he has in years. An improvement in the Chargers's offensive line could help the passing game by giving Rivers more time, as well as allowing the duo to take advantage of an improved run game on play action. Behind Gates are John Phillips, a good blocker and reliable short range target, and Ladarius Green, a young, long and very athletic pass catching threat.

 

Offensive Line:

The Chargers offensive line was one of the single worst units in the league. Overall, the Chargers want a big, no-nonsense, smash-mouth power running game. Mike Harris was awful at left tackle. The team hopes that between 6'9” 330-pound King Dunlap and 6'8” 345-pound Max Starks, the position will be significantly upgraded in both phases of the offense. Starting rookie right tackle 6'5” 335-pound D.J. Fluker certainly fits the mold as a long and mammoth drive-blocker. After adding in left guard 6'5” Chad Rinehart, veteran center Nick Hardwick, and 6'6” right guard Jeromey Clary, the Chargers probably have the biggest offensive line in the league by quite a bit. One guy to watch is second-year David Molk, a squatty but super strong and physical player who could upgrade the center spot.

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Best Offensive Rookie – QB Brad Sorensen

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – TE Ladarius Green

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Wide Receiver

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – WR Marqise Lee, USC

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive Line:

The defensive line was unequivocally the strength of the defense. Led by the young, super athletic end tandem of Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes, the group was disruptive and physical upfront. Both ends adjusted to the 3-4 defense admirably as Liuget tallied seven sacks and Reyes had 5.5 sacks of his own in his rookie year. At nose tackle, the massive Cam Thomas and rookie Kwame Geathers won't get to the quarterback much but ought to make life difficult for opposing centers against the interior run.

 

Outside Linebacker:

Unlike the defensive line, the defense did not receive much production from the outside linebackers. Gone is their only great rusher, Shaun Phillips, to Denver. The guy that was expected to fill the void in his sophomore season was Melvin Ingram, but he tore his ACL in OTAs. Jarret Johnson will continue to be a stout, physical run defender at one spot. Opposite him will be former All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney. Freeney isn't quite the athlete he once was and wasn't super productive in the Colts's 3-4 defense in 2012ut there is upside. Behind them are rookie Tourek Williams, a big and super physical athlete and the disappointing Larry English.

 

Inside Linebacker:

San Diego projects to have good starters at inside linebacker in Donald Butler and rookie Manti Te'o. Butler is very athletic, if slightly undersized, and is a strong blitzer. Te'o brings more prototypical size and bulk along with unbelievable tackling production and playmaking ability. However, there isn't much talent behind them in special-teamers Andre Gachkar and Bront Bird. The hope is that physical, 5'11” third-year D.J. Smith will secure a second-string spot.

 

Cornerback:

The team will have to be more aggressive on defense this year and that will put more pressure on the secondaries. This offseason, the cornerback position was overhauled, with the team jettisoning starters Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. In comes underrated 6'2” Derek Cox, a fast and physical playmaker on the outside. Third-year Shareece Wright, who has shown limited playmaking skills in his short career, probably steps into a starting job as well. Diminutive rookie Steve Williams has all the movement skills you want, and incoming, playmaking free agent Johnny Patrick will compete to be a major part of the 2013 secondary. Overall, the cornerbacks shouldn't be much of a strength.

 

Safety:

Maybe the best safety in football, Eric Weddle has a Troy Polamalu-like impact on the game for the Chargers. He combines great speed and quickness with top instincts, ball skills and open field tackling ability. He can excel as a deep, rangy free safety and as an in-the-box run supporter, covering slot receivers and tight ends. Next to him may be the versatile Marcus Gilchrist. A better fit at safety, he's a nice athlete that can cover some in the slot but lacks great playmaking skills. The higher upside player here, though, is 6'0” 205-pound Darrell Stuckey, an athletic and talented player who has yet to secure major playing time.

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Best Defensive Rookie – ILB Manti Te'o

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – DE Kendall Reyes

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Cornerback

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – CB Damian Swann, Georgia