It’s preseason and the San Diego Chargers are working hard to get ready for the new season. A season in which they hope to redeem themselves from the 4-12 record of last year, their worst since 2003. I find it difficult to predict how the Bolts will do.
While many of last year’s matches were close, an often heard argument by the team, certain factors are not in their favor. One of those factors being the division they’re in. The AFC West currently is very tough, Philips Rivers called it “salty”. Also, Mike McCoy is still the Head Coach.
On the other hand, the Chargers made some interesting offseason transactions, both on offense and defense. In this article I’m going to focus on a few impact changes – as I’d like to call them – that make me particularly optimistic about the Chargers 2016 Offense.
When the Chicago Bears released veteran lineman Matt Slauson right after the draft, it may have been a surprise to some, but at the same time it was a fortunate one for the Chargers. Graded a top-20 guard by PFF last year, he was signed to play center for the Bolts. A position Slauson wasn’t completely unfamiliar with, as he’d also started a few games there in 2015.
With his experience and versatility, Slauson is a great pickup to solidify a spot that was one of the Bolts’ biggest vulnerabilities last season. Additionally, he can be an ideal mentor for third round draft pick Max Tuerk, who’s projected to be the long-term solution at center. Slauson has adjusted fast to his new team and position.
The 6-5, 315 pound veteran made quite an impression in camp, holding his own in one-on-one position battles with Brandon Mebane. Slauson knows playing center isn’t just about physical strength. He’s been emphasizing that communication and trust are imperative. He’s slowly but steadily emerging himself as a vocal leader. Philip Rivers has already compared his demeanor with Nick Hardwick‘s.
Slauson looks to be the glue between the left and right side of the line, something that was clearly missing last season. His mentality should transfer to the other linemen and help them play better. Together with King Dunlap, Orlando Franklin, D.J. Fluker, and Joe Barksdale, the Chargers have a strong and solid offensive line – provided they stay healthy!
The Bolts selected the best Tight End of the 2016 Draft with their second round pick. Hunter Henry was awarded the 2015 John Mackey award (nation’s top TE) and finished his junior year with 51 catches for 739 yards and three TDs. Additionally, he’s proven to be a very reliable receiver with great hands. He didn’t drop a pass in his 2015 junior year and only two on 90 passes in the past two years.
The true enthusiasm about Hunter Henry, however, comes with his blocking skills. While draft experts couldn’t agree on the matter, he’s shown in training camp that he’s a fast learner and a more than adequate blocker. This is where Henry adds value and a strategic advantage over Ladarius Green.
When the Chargers showed up with both Gates and Green in the lineup, it was a dead giveaway that it was going to be a pass play. Running a two TE set with Gates and Henry will leave the opponent guessing, opening up new possibilities. Possibilities recognized by the team, as the Bolts have practiced extensively from the 12 personnel group in camp. It’s something to keep an eye on and look forward too.
I don’t think many fans were disappointed when the Chargers parted ways with Frank Reich this offseason. When they announced the return of Ken Whisenhunt, I assume most fans were excited. It’s nice that the team has an offensive coordinator who actually knows what he’s doing, has the ability to adapt to the skills and qualities of his players, and brings some assertiveness to counter Mike McCoy.
We all remember 2013, when Whisenhunt introduced a new offensive scheme based on shorter throws and a quicker release, that allowed Philips Rivers to produce elite numbers. After two mediocre years, Rivers finished the year with a completion percentage of 69.5% (career high) and a QB rating of 105.5 (highest since 2008). In 2014 and 2015 his QB rating dropped below 100 again.
In his only season with the Chargers, Whisenhunt even made the rushing offense look good. They finished the year at rank 13, which was their highest since 2007. Also, it was an odd positive in between 2012 (27th), 2014 (30th) and 2015 (31st).
I’m not the only one who’s enthusiastic about the return of Ken Whisenhunt, given this tweet by someone with football knowledge:
Split Zone. Counter. Power. IZ. Draw. All this in this quick team session. Missed you so much, Whiz.
— Jerome R. Watson (@SkinnyDuzIt) July 31, 2016
In training camp practice Whisenhunt has brought back more variety, more creativity, more tempo, and the power running game (albeit limited). Even if there are too many shotgun plays and a vanilla Offense in preseason, I say, that’s why it’s preseason. I have faith we’ll see a much less predictable and effective offense in the regular season, when it matters.
The 2016 WR Group
While I don’t count it as one of the “impact changes”, this year’s wide receiver group is definitely worth mentioning, because it’s arguably the best WR group the Chargers have had in years.
- Keenan Allen – stud WR1, who has further improved this year.
- Travis Benjamin – offseason signing who’s building rapport with Rivers.
- Tyrell Williams – talent, Training Camp standout and fan favorite.
- James Jones – veteran who wants to prove something.
These four have enough skills, talent and diversity to be a consistent threat. Depending on opponent strategy and matchups, Philip Rivers should be able to make at least one of them excel each game.
It’s not a stretch to assume the Chargers will go with five wide receivers. Dontrelle Inman seems to have the inside track for that spot. Whether he’ll get it remains to be seen, although he has been reliable enough when the team asked for him to step in.
A physical veteran center who solidifies the 0-line, understands the position and has the right mentality. A tight end opposite Gates who can catch AND block. An offensive coordinator with knowledge, flexibility and personality. Three important pieces on 0ffense the Chargers didn’t have last year. I explained why the impact of these personnel changes is likely to be big. Add to this a quality WR group the Bolts haven’t had in years and you get why I’m optimistic about the 2016 Offense.
Note: I haven’t mentioned the run game. It could very well improve, but I’m not convinced yet. I have to see it first.