Coming into the 2015 season after the addition of Orlando Franklin, the San Diego Chargers looked to have one of the strongest offensive lines in the National Football League. Injuries decimated the line early and often and when week 17 rolled around the team had a shell of its former self manning the line.
Bringing in Orlando Franklin was supposed to solidify the line, but he was only able to start and play in 10 out of the 16 Chargers games in 2016. That after only missing one game in his previous four seasons with the Denver Broncos. He was clearly frustrated and his injuries were just the beginning of the issue for the team.
Starting center and second year pro Chris Watt was to be the Chargers center in 2016. He only made it three games before injuring his shoulder and was ultimately lost for the year. Trevor Robinson started 13 games at center for the team to replace Watt. His play was sporadic at best. He graded out as the leagues worst offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus and the team clearly needs to find a quality backup for Watt who has battled constant injuries through his brief two-year career.
D.J. Fluker was drafted by the Chargers in the first round in 2013 (11th overall) but really hasn’t performed consistently. He really needs to step up and be a leader on this team. He has the ability but sometimes can be a little too technique oriented instead of just bull rushing defenders. Fluker battled concussion issues last season and only played in 12 games for the Bolts. A common theme for the Chargers as they couldn’t stay healthy.
Lastly King Dunlap was limited to seven games last season due to a high ankle sprain and concussion issues. It really wasn’t a surprise as Dunlap has continually failed to stay healthy during his career. The 31-year-old has only played all 16 games once in his seven-year career and that was in 2014 for the Bolts. The team signed him long-term after that performance but injuries hit once again in 2015. The team can only hope that last year was just an off year for the mammoth lineman.
Tom Telesco and the Chargers front office re-negotiated Dunlap’s contract recently as he took a $1.2 million dollar pay cut for this coming season. He can earn the money back through incentives though. If he plays and starts all 16 games, he should be able to recoup his losses.
The only starter that played and started all 16 games last year on the line was Joe Barksdale. The journeyman lineman was brought in to compete for a position. He won a spot with consistent play and parlayed that into a huge contract this season. Barksdale was brought back on a four-year/$22.2 million dollar deal right before free agency opened. Seems like a great signing for the team as Barksdale has been very durable during his career starting 16 games in each of the last three seasons. He played in 1,043 snaps last season for the Bolts and easily lead the lineman in that category.
Chris Hairston was forced into a starting role last season due to injuries. He ended up playing in all 16 games and started 11 for the team. His Pro Football Focus grades are bad as he ranked out as the leagues 65th out of 77 tackles. He did however play every position on the line except center which shows great versatility. Hairston was brought back and signed this past week on a two-year deal, and should be one of the top backups for the Bolts in the 2016 season. Or at least Chargers fans hope he is used as a back up and not forced to start like last season. In small doses he could become more effective on the line.
Tyreek Burwell was forced to play in nine games last season for the Chargers. The 24-year-old played simply because of injuries and is still learning the nuisances of the pro game. Kenny Wiggins who started eight games and played in 15 last season, was important for the team. The 28-year-old veteran was re-signed to a one year $600,000 dollar deal and can play both guard positions as well as right tackle.
Lastly the team has young Michael Huey on the practice squad. He was signed in early January to a reserve/future contract and could get some playing time if he develops. The team could also use some of their draft picks on lineman so nothing is entirely set in stone at the moment.
You would have to figure the team will either sign a veteran center or draft one in April. The combination of Chris Watt and Trevor Robinson is easily the weakest link in the Chargers line. Watt has the ability but he needs to step up if he wishes to be recognized as the teams starting center now and into the future. The truth is he is in all reality playing out of position and the team might ultimately just have to find someone who is a natural center.
All and all the offensive line is in decent shape. That all really depends on health though. The Chargers were hit with so much bad luck last year, this 2016 season has to be better in that regard. A healthy Fluker, Franklin and Dunlap will go a long way into stabilizes this line. Each man is needed in order to be effective in the new style of offensive the Chargers plan to run. Melvin Gordon MUST get his first professional rushing touchdown. This line needs to play better. A healthy bunch should produce. Cross your fingers Chargers fans. Nothing is a given in this league.