San Diego Chargers: Health Will Be the Difference Between Elite and Mediocre

Heneli IongiAnalyst IApril 22, 2012

San Diego Chargers: Health Will Be the Difference Between Elite and Mediocre

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    Health is the difference between the Chargers either being elite, or just plain mediocre.  Let's be honest here.  The Chargers are loaded with talent.  That's a proven fact. 

    Players on the roster that have such an upside to them that it's ridiculous to see what could have been the result of a full healthy season.  But that right there is the problem.  The Chargers main talents just can't be healthy for an entire season.

    I was one of those guys that said that the Chargers were in transition after so many other players are getting older while the new blood come in and figure it all out.  I was wrong.  The Chargers were never in transition.  Maybe transition in scheme from "Martyball" to "Air Norval" but not in talent. 

    I looked closely at the Chargers roster and came to a conclusion: The Chargers are an absolute beast just by looking at who the potential starters are.  The question now becomes whether the Day One starters can be the same starters throughout the season?

    Did the Chargers underachieve in the past two years?  Absolutely.  Was it because they were short on talent?  Absolutely not. 

    Truth is, no team had gone through more activated players for game day than the Chargers.  Sure every team goes through the injury bug but no one got hit with that bug more often than the Chargers.

    Take some time to check out some of the players who will be key for the Chargers to return to elite form and look what they are supposed to be: a deep, talented, elite squad primed for a run at the title.

Antonio Gates: Future HOFer but Still Looking to Be at Elite Form

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    I hate it when people say that Antonio Gates is getting older and he's going to decline soon.  Too much opinion with little backing.  A healthy Gates, regardless of what age he is, can still dominate any defense in the middle of the field. 

    At 31 years old, Gates is still too big for defensive backs to cover him and too fast for LB's to stay with him.  Let's take a look at what Gates done during his often-injured past two seasons.

    In 2011, Antonio Gates had 64 receptions, 778 receiving yards, and seven TDs for an average of 12.2 yards per catch while missing three games.  In 2010, Gates had 50 receptions, 782 receiving yards, and 10 TDs for an average of 15.6 yards per catch while missing six games.

    Those are his stats when he's hurt.  From 2004 through 2009, a healthy Antonio Gates averages 76 receptions, 972 receiving yards, and 10 TDs for an average of 13 yards per catch.  If you ask me, that's very impressive.

    I love Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, Dallas Clark and Jimmy Graham amongst all the top TEs in the league.  Truth is, I'd take a healthy Antonio Gates over any of those TEs.

Luis Castillo: Hasn't Been the Best 3-4 Defensive End in Awhile

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    The Chargers got Luis Castillo back at a Goodwill discount rate.  This was a huge signing due to the low risk and high reward factor on Castillo.

    Luis Castillo haven't been his high-octane self in a long time.  Coming off of a devastating injury early in the season, Castillo is looking at making a comeback.  A comeback he hasn't been able to make in years since his 2006 season, the season that help lead him into a very good contract extension. 

    Castillo has been downhill ever since he got his new contract with the Chargers back in 2007.  My excuse for Castillo's downfall isn't as much him being plagued by injury, but by the simple fact that he played in a defense that didn't suit his strengths. 

    Castillo ain't great in beating two blockers, but he does destroy any offensive lineman in one-on-one situations. 

    The wild card here is defensive coordinator John Pagano.  No one is truly sure if he's going to run a passive defense, in which he doesn't have the personnel to run it, or an aggressive defense, one in which is perfect for the Charger defense to run. 

    I believe Luis Castillo will get back to form.  Nothing is as exciting to watch this upcoming season than a player of Castillo's caliber playing to prove he's good enough to still be a starter in this league. 

    We all know what Castillo is capable of and we seen it in the past.  The question will be whether he'll return to his dominating self. 

Malcom Floyd: The Key for the Chargers' Passing Attack Next Season If Healthy

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    What will be the key to the Chargers passing attack next season?  Will it be Ryan Mathews and that improving running game?  Or will it be a healthy Antonio Gates?  How about the additions of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal?  The key to the Chargers passing attack will be Malcom Floyd.

    Let it be known that Malcom Floyd has never started an entire 16 game season.  Not once.  Is it a concern?  In the past, maybe not.  Next season?  Absolutely.

    The addition of Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Michael Spurlock and Roscoe Parrish from free agency has been a very welcoming surprise.  Retaining Richard Goodman to the receiving corps has also been a huge plus to such a diverse and deep group of WRs. 

    The problem I have is the simple fact that if Malcom Floyd goes down, none of the WRs have that rapport that Floyd has with Philip Rivers.  Out of all the WRs, only Vincent Brown and Richard Goodman have experience with Rivers in the passing game.

    The concern here is the early portion of the season.  The Chargers' new weapons will build that rapport with Philip Rivers in the first couple of games in the season.  That's why having a healthy Malcom Floyd will be key here. 

    I know what all of you are thinking, the Chargers still have Antonio Gates, though.  If Gates goes down with a injury, the Chargers still have Randy McMichael, who has built a nice rapport with Philip Rivers the past two years.

    If Malcom Floyd stays healthy, there is no doubt that Floyd will get his first 1,000+ yards receiving season.  Floyd is just as good as Vincent Jackson.  The only difference is Jackson could stay on the field healthy while Floyd hasn't done so yet. 

    Floyd can do everything Jackson can do.  Anyone to argue that will have a tough time building a case against what a healthy Floyd is capable of doing.

Ryan Mathews: Top-Five RB in the League If Healthy from the Get-Go

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    After a rookie season in which Ryan Mathews was marred by injuries, he sure as hell came into his sophomore campaign showing what he's truly capable of. 

    Here is something scary to think about.  Ryan Mathews rushed for 1,091 yards on 222 carries averaging 4.9 yards per carry.  That ranks him at 10th amongst the most total rushing yards last season.

    What makes Mathews such a dynamic threat is his ability to also catch the ball out of the backfield.  Mathews had 50 receptions for 455 yards, averaging 9.1 yards per carry.  In terms of all-purpose yardage, Mathews is ranked seventh in the league in that category.

    That's pretty impressive if you ask me.  What makes it more impressive is the fact that Mathews did all that in 14 games.  The problem is just that right there.  Mathews only played 14 games due to being injured during two of the games last season.  Could you imagine what a full season will do for Mathews?

    The question now is whether Ryan Mathews can carry the load after having another RB in the line-up helping him out, keeping him fresh.  Having Le'Ron McClain will help after joining the team through the free agency, but his role will still be as a blocking fullback rather than complementing Mathews in the backfield. 

    For the Chargers sake, let's hope that Ryan Mathews will keep himself healthy because  the games he may be out for might be the games that matter most.

Larry English: Will a Full Season Prove That He Was What He Supposed to Be?

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    Larry English.  Some say he's a bust.  Some says he needs to have a full season to prove himself to be a bust or not.  I believe he's a very good OLB. 

    I'm sure I'll get flack for this but I'm going base off of what I see on the field during game day.  Does he get sacks?  No.  Can he pressure the QB?  Absolutely.  Nearly every passing down that I've seen while he's healthy, he pressures the QB.

    The one adversity that have always plagued Larry English is injuries.  You can't call a guy a bust when he hasn't even showed what he's fully capable of after he's played a full season. 

    If English is healthy and doesn't perform, then he's a bust.  As far as I can see, during games that he's played, English did a great job.

    Let's hope Larry English is healthy because if the Chargers decide to make a crazy move during the draft like moving up to draft Mark Barron, English will hold the fort in defending against the pass.

Honorable Mention...

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    Two honorable mentions that come to mind are Eddie Royal and Shaun Phillips.

    Eddie Royal is a recent addition to the Chargers this season.  Royal was a little banged up last season.  I figured I'd put him on this list as it's always tough to see how healthy a person will be the following season after being banged up the previous season. 

    However, Royal will be a vital player in the Chargers' passing attack.  The reason is simple.  Royal is going to help substitute in for Antonio Gates during three-receiver sets. 

    Not to mention with so many weapons on the field already, no one on the Chargers roster, besides Robert Meachem, has the ability to beat one-on-one defenders easily with speed.  Not to mention beating them with speed from the inside slot position. 

    As with Eddie Royal, Shaun Phillips is coming off an injured season.  Except for Phillips, he had to miss four games.  Phillips isn't a elite pass rusher, but he can hold his own against one-on-one pass blockers.

    Coming off of his worst season as a starter, Phillips will have to be healthy to be the pass rusher we're all used to on the field.  I fully expect Phillips to be a huge difference maker if injury isn't an issue with him this season.

In Conclusion...

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    Take a look at this picture of a depth chart and imagine the Chargers showing up week in and week out with the same starters.

    Let's start with offense:

    QB: Philip Rivers- One of the best QB's in the game.  Besides one off year, Rivers is still considered one of the top passers in the game.

    RB: Ryan Mathews- A young RB who was ranked seventh in the league in total yards and 10th in total rushing yards.  That's not bad if you ask me.

    FB: Le'Ron McClain- A triple threat at FB.  McClain has the ability to be not only a runner, not only a pass catcher, but also a devastating run blocker.  You add that dimension and running game weapon to Ryan Mathews in the backfield, you have something special next season.

    WR: Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd as starting WR's with Eddie Royal at the slot position-  Floyd will be the red-zone and deep threat while Meachem offer the Chargers a speed dynamic at the opposite end.  While defenses keep tabs on Antonio Gates and the outside threats, Royal will burn any defender against him one on one.

    TE: Antonio Gates-  What can you say about this man?  Healthy or playing for majority of the season on one foot, Gates still eat up yardage on the field.  With more receiving threats along the perimeter, it's hard for defenses to just focus on him only.

    LT: Jared Gaither- Held his own without giving up a sack in his first five starts with the Chargers last season.

    LG: Tyronn Green- Filled in just fine for Kris Dielman and didn't skip a beat.

    C: Nick Hardwick- One of the top centers in the game.

    RG: Louis Vasquez- Big specimen and plays football with a Dielman-like mean streak.

    RT: Jeromey Clary- Decent enough to hold his own against tough pass rushers.

    Now on to defense:

    DE: Luis Castillo and Corey Luiget-  If played in a aggressive defensive scheme, they'll beat one on one pass blockers all day.

    NT: Antonio Garay- Will be able to return to his old self under a better DC.

    OLB: Jarrett Johnson and Shaun Phillips- Johnson automatically upgrades the Chargers run defense as he played that role in setting the edge in Baltimore.  Hopefully the Chargers will give him the opportunity to prove himself as a capable pass rusher.  Phillips should be able to get back to his old self if healthy.

    ILB: Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler- Spikes is a proven player.  He is a strong run-stuffing, ILB while Butler will be the cover ILB from sideline to sideline.  Butler "rookie" season was a strong one and one he can only improve upon this upcoming season.

    CB: Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason- Both players struggled in a absolute passive defense last year but should return to 2010 form if they play in a aggressive defense under John Pagano.

    FS: Eric Weddle- The man has finally arrived as one of the best safeties in the game.  Weddle should do just fine dominating the middle coverage of the field again next season.

    SS: Darrell Stuckey- This is the only weak position I see on the Chargers roster if healthy.  I do hope Stuckey can prove himself as he was a ball-hawking safety in college.  Thing is, he is better suited for FS which is already taken at this time by Weddle. 

    Let's hope if anything, the Chargers trade up for Mark Barron or somehow pick up Harrison Smith in the second round.  Anything can happen, but if Stuckey is the guy, I believe he'll do a decent job until he bulks up.

    If the Chargers keep this starting depth chart healthy and rotate with the other promising players on the roster, this can be the difference between an elite squad and a very mediocre team.