Now that the draft is finally over, it’s time to look ahead to the season ahead.
The San Diego Chargers are coming off the back of a disappointing 2011 season in which the team finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
However, there is hope. The team retained head coach Norv Turner and also kept faith with general manager A.J. Smith. After a busy free agency and an impressive draft class, the Chargers are looking in good shape for this year.
Over the next three weeks, I shall be breaking down the Chargers roster for the upcoming season, and this week begins with the offense.
So what will the offense look like in 2012? Let’s find out.
The Chargers' leader on offense is undoubtedly star quarterback Philip Rivers, who is one of the best passers in the league.
Rivers was uncharacteristically inconsistent at times last season and threw a career-high 20 interceptions.
However, much of this was due to the lack of weapons at his disposal, and I fully expect him to bounce back this season.
Long-time backup Billy Volek was released by the team back in March and was replaced by a familiar face in Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst spent the last two seasons competing for playing time with the Seattle Seahawks and should provide solid backup for Rivers.
Projected QB Depth Chart: 1) Philip Rivers, 2) Charlie Whitehurst
Starter Ryan Mathews is coming off his first 1,000 yard rushing season and appears to be developing into one of the NFL’s best running backs.
He still has some issues with fumbles and is often injury-prone, but he should be in line for another 1,000 season once again.
There are several potential backups on the current roster, including rookies Edwin Baker and Michael Hayes, but it’s Curtis Brinkley who is expected to win the job. As a backup, Brinkley isn’t going to be a speedy change-of-pace back the way Darren Sproles was, but he should still provide solid support for Mathews.
Projected RB Depth Chart: 1) Ryan Mathews, 2) Curtis Brinkley, 3) Edwin Baker
Former Kansas City Chief Le’Ron McClain was signed in free agency, and he will serve as lead blocker for Mathews this season.
McClain is a former Pro Bowler during his time with the Baltimore Ravens, and he should see some carries in goal-line situations as a running back.
Jacob Hester will act as McClain’s backup and will also be one of the team’s key contributors on special teams.
Projected FB Depth Chart: 1) Le’Ron McClain, 2) Jacob Hester
The current group of wide receivers are looking dramatically different to the ones that ended last season. There are only two receivers left on the roster (Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown) that had a catch last year. So what’s changed?
For starters, long-time No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson has left the team after signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish and Michael Spurlock were all signed in free agency to help replace his production.
Quarterback Philip Rivers couldn’t be much happier with this group of receivers, and they should play a role in contributing to the offense this season.
Projected WR Depth Chart: 1) Malcom Floyd, 2) Robert Meachem, 3) Vincent Brown, 4) Eddie Royal, 5) Roscoe Parrish, 6) Richard Goodman
Although he is coming towards the end of his career, Antonio Gates is still one of the top tight ends in the NFL. In fact, when healthy, Gates would rank behind only New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham as the league’s best (in my unbiased opinion).
Gates has been injury-prone over the last few seasons, and so the team were busy this offseason in acquiring some competition to provide depth at tight end.
Kory Sperry and Brad Taylor return from last year’s roster, but I don’t expect either of them to make the final cut this time around. Veteran Randy McMichael was re-signed on a one-year deal and should serve as the primary backup to Gates.
In a surprising move, Ladarius Green was drafted in the fourth round and will bring some added speed to the tight end position. He isn’t much of a blocker, but with tutoring from Gates and some solid coaching, he could go on to become a key player for the Chargers.
Projected TE Depth Chart: 1) Antonio Gates, 2) Randy McMichael, 3) Ladarius Green
Unlike other areas on offense, the offensive line looks like it's going to be pretty much the same as the one that ended last season.
On the left side of the line, Jared Gaither will start at tackle now that Marcus McNeill is no longer with the team, and Tyronne Green will replace retired Kris Dielman at guard.
The right side will be the same as it has been for the past few seasons with Jeromey Clary at tackle and Louis Vasquez staring at guard.
Veteran Nick Hardwick was re-signed on a three-year deal and will continue to start at center.
Overall, the offensive line looks to be set and there is also plenty of depth with 15 offensive linemen currently on the roster.
Projected OL Starters: left tackle Jared Gaither; left guard Tyronne Green; enter Nick Hardwick; right guard Louis Vasquez; right tackle Jeromey Clary
Projected OL Backups: T Mario Henderson; T/G Brandyn Dombrowski; G/C Rex Hadnot; C David Molk
In closing, the Chargers' offense is looking great for next season, and I'm fully expecting Rivers to rebound and throw for 4,000-plus yards with over 30 touchdowns once again.
The only addition the team may make before training amp would be possibly adding another running back. Similar to what the Baltimore Ravens did last year with their backfield of Ray Rice and Ricky Williams, the Chargers may look to bring in a veteran backup to help take the load off Ryan Mathews. Free agents Joseph Addai and Ryan Grant are still available and would certainly add more depth at the position.
Although the Chargers' offense is in good shape, the defense could still use some work.
Cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer are still the best players at the position, and the team may try sign some added backup before training camp starts.
But check back next week as I reveal the full breakdown of the defense.
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