Off-season training activities (OTA’S) in the NFL mean two things. For one, summer is approaching; secondly, I can smell football season. The yearly six-month faux-religion which fixates us toward our television sets as the weather cools and snow falls, well not here in San Diego really.
Coming off a rather Charger-esque season a year ago in which the bolts finished 4-12 for the first time since 2003 and held the third overall pick in this past April’s NFL draft, this upcoming season there is a bit more to be excited about with the San Diego Chargers. There is an overall sense that the team may not be as far off as their 2015 record may indicate.
Navigating through the off-season, general manager Tom Telesco has compiled a solid roster. Bagging numerous acquisitions such as veteran offensive lineman Matt Slauson from Chicago, and stout run defender Brandon Mebane formerly of the Seattle Seahawks; with other key additions such as wideout Travis Benjamin and defensive back Casey Hayward. This positioned the team to go after both need and depth in the 2016 NFL draft.
The selection of Joey Bosa, with the third overall pick, out of Ohio State University was both a splash pick and a need. Pro Football Focus had him as their highest rated edge defender over the past two college football seasons. Second-rounder Hunter Henry brings youth and a much-needed understudy to Canton-bound tight end Antonio Gates due to the departure of Ladarius Green via free agency. Late rounder Jatavis Brown out of Akron may very well be the yearly late-round “steal” of the draft, due to his über athleticism and pursuit as a hybrid linebacker/box safety.
This offensive unit should be more balanced with the continued fortification of the offensive-line and a sophomore resurgence from 2015 first-rounder Melvin Gordon. Ultimately this team will go as Philip Rivers goes. I envision a flashback to 2013’s offensive style and scheme of heavy usage of the ground game with the solid stable of running-backs at hand, setting up favorable passing downs with plenty of play-action passes sprinkled throughout.
This is re-hired offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt’s system. To further illustrate Wisenhunt’s impact as the squads’ offensive coordinator, bear in mind this: 2013 was Rivers’ highest passing-grade in the last five seasons, when he was in Wisenhunt’s offense. Furthermore, this past season Pro Football Focus handed Rivers the lowest grade of his career, due in part to horrendous protection from the offensive line. As a unit they surrendered pressure on 39.7 percent of drop backs last season, the fifth-highest mark in the league.
Defensively this team has the potential to be flat-out dominant, and should rank more favorably against the run due to the noted additions along the defensive front. These additions were sorely needed as the Bolts ranked dead-last in run defense in 2015, constantly getting mauled in trenches by opposing teams’ offensive lines.
In particular, the addition of Mebane to anchor down the nose tackle position provides three things; a disruptive wide-bodied player with excellent ability to collapse the pocket, a veteran presence to mentor the teams’ young defensive linemen and one hell of a sack celebration. Going into this season the Bolts have their best opportunity at a division crown in recent memory (I.E. since Mr. Manning is no longer in mile high) with a Denver squad relying on the services of either Mark Sanchez (butt fumble, never forget), or a very raw Paxton Lynch. Kansas City on the other hand is still being led by captain check-down, Alex Smith. Oakland, while youthful and improved, are still the Raiders.
So long as the Chargers avoid the smorgasbord of varying combinations and litany of injuries along the offensive front, continued progression from this young, attacking defense and some old-fashioned luck; this team is on the cusp of what could be a very memorable season, which hopefully results in some exciting January football. Playoff football.