6 Encouraging Signs for San Diego Chargers Heading into 2012 NFL Season

Alex Ramirez@@alexramirez127Correspondent IJune 21, 2012

6 Encouraging Signs for San Diego Chargers Heading into 2012 NFL Season

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    As the final day of minicamp comes to an end, it's time to start looking ahead to the season.

    It's been two years since the San Diego Chargers have made the playoffs, been considered a top team in the NFL or even given their fans something to look forward to.

    After a great offseason, the Chargers are looking like a revamped team ready to compete this season. Here are six encouraging signs heading into the 2012 season.

No. 6. Chargers Are Loaded with Talent

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    A.J. Smith, the man who is constantly attacked for running the Chargers into the ground, has had one of his best offseasons yet.

    For every player that San Diego lost, A.J. Smith managed to fill the position.


    Important players lost

    Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill, Mike Tolbert, Steve Gregory, Billy Volek, Travis Laboy and Patrick Crayton.


    Important players signed

    Le'Ron McClain, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Spurlock, Dante Rosario, Jared Gaither, Mario Henderson, Jarret Johnson, Atari Bigby and Ronnie Brown.

    Smith and the Chargers also had a terrific draft. Melvin Ingram fell into their hands at No. 18, which is still a surprise to most. Kendall Reyes was taken in the second round to add depth to the defensive front line.

    Brandon Taylor, a very underrated player, was taken in the third round to compete with Atari Bigby for starting strong safety. LaDarius Green, Johnnie Troutman, David Molk and Edwin Baker were also taken in this year's draft.

    Not to mention San Diego has Pro Bowl players at quarterback in Philip Rivers, tight end in Antonio Gates, running back in Ryan Mathews and an All-Pro safety in Eric Weddle.

    It's clear that the Chargers are talented, which is a direct result of a great offseason by A.J. Smith and the rest of San Diego's staff. Fans should be excited about the players on this year's roster.

No. 5. Antonio Gates Is Healthy

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    Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is coming into the season healthy for the first time in two seasons.

    The last couple of years have shown that even when not 100 percent, Gates is still the main target of Philip Rivers because of his ability to get separation in the middle. Having Antonio Gates healthy also makes the red zone offense much better.

    Antonio Gates will benefit from the addition of Eddie Royal. For the most part of his career, Gates has been the only threat down the middle. With Eddie Royal playing in the slot, Gates will be able to get open easier.

    Ultimately, having Antonio Gates healthy will make the entire offense better.

No. 4. Chargers Are Under the Radar

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    For the first year in quite a while, the Chargers are not favored to make the Super Bowl; the playoffs aren't even considered a lock. All the hype that has surrounded San Diego recently will not be there.

    The pressure is off.

    The Chargers aren't even favored to win the division. Some even have them in third place behind Denver and Kansas City. With such low expectations, expect the Chargers to use that as motivation to excel this season.

    With the tough schedule San Diego has this season, they will more than likely not be favored to win each week. They will make it their goal to prove to everyone why they are underrated and should be feared.

No. 3. John Pagano Is an Upgrade over Greg Manusky

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    The NFL found out that Greg Manusky is no Ron Rivera. In Rivera's last year as defensive coordinator in San Diego, the Chargers' defense ranked first in the league. Last year, they fell to 16th, but the major drop-off was on third-down defense, where they ranked last.

    John Pagano was promoted to defensive coordinator after Manusky failed to make the Chargers' defense respectable. Pagano has been the linebackers coach in San Diego since 2005 and is the brother of Chuck Pagano, former defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens and new head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

    Norv Turner and the rest of the Chargers' staff have faith in Pagano. It shocked many that Pagano wasn't promoted to defensive coordinator last year when Rivera left to coach Carolina, but San Diego is happy that they have now.

    John Pagano, much like his brother, will want to create a dictating defense that is feared by offenses in the NFL.

No. 2. Ryan Mathews Is Primed for a Breakout Season

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    With the recent retiring of Chargers legend LaDainian Tomlinson, the true era of Ryan Mathews can begin. Ryan Mathews was 10th in the NFL in yards last season, averaging almost five yards a carry. He only missed two games last year, after missing four his rookie season.

    With the shortened offseason last year, Mathews couldn't get the work in to be the best that he could.

    It didn't help that he came into camp out of shape as well.

    Although there isn't a lot of hype around the Chargers as a team, Ryan Mathews has an enormous amount of it heading into the season. He's climbing up fantasy-football boards with Mike Tolbert now in Carolina.

    We've all seen his speed and explosiveness. With Le'Ron McClain now leading the way, Ryan Mathews will show everyone why he's already an elite running back.

No. 1. Philip Rivers WILL Be Better

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    It was a bad year for Philip Rivers in 2011. He had 20 interceptions and nine fumbles.

    However, he still had 4,624 yards and 27 touchdowns, and no one expects Rivers to play as poorly as he did last season.

    Excuses can be made for why Rivers played like that last year. His offensive line was almost all backups for the most part of the season because of injuries, so he was constantly under pressure. Injuries also affected his targets during the season.

    Regardless of all the reasons Rivers played that way, a new season is here, a fresh start for the fiery quarterback.

    Not one person should doubt Philip Rivers and his competitiveness. He's a fighter and he's a winner. He'll do whatever it takes to get back on track and play at an MVP-caliber level.